More contentious debates over cannabis legalization expected during the special session

The New Mexico Legislature is slated to start a special session Tuesday to address economic development and full cannabis legalization. But there is still a question of how much support cannabis legalization will garner from both Republicans and Democrats. 

About an hour after the regular 2021 legislative session ended, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, flanked by Democratic legislative leaders in a news conference, announced that she would call legislators back for a special session to pick up where they left off with recreational-use cannabis legalization. The session started out with five legalization bills, but by the last week there was only one proposal: HB 12. Sponsored by Democratic Reps. Javier Martínez of Albuquerque and Andrea Romero of Santa Fe, HB 12 quickly became the favored bill for many Democrats, but hit a rough patch as it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Cannabis legalization runs out of time, governor will call for a special session

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham confirmed on Saturday that she plans to call a special legislative session aimed at fully legalizing cannabis and said it will begin “on or about” March 31. 

In a post-legislative session press conference, Lujan Grisham said the work lawmakers did to try and come up with an agreeable cannabis legalization proposal can serve as a good starting point during the special session. 

“If you look at all of the brokering of efforts to bring two sides of the issue together, and it happened over and over again, we have an incredible framework ready to go for adult use cannabis,” Lujan Grisham said. 

The governor’s announcement comes on the heels of a 60-day session that failed to send a cannabis legalization bill to Lujan Grisham’s desk. But the outlook for cannabis legalization during the last few days of the session was a stark contrast from the optimism just weeks earlier. About a week before lawmakers were set to adjourn, legalization seemed like it was going to stall in the Senate Judiciary Committee. But HB 12, sponsored by Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, ultimately made its way out of that committee, albeit with less than 72 hours before the end of the session and a warning from Chairman Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces. 

“There are a number of things in the bill that should be of great concern to you that, frankly, in many cases, are just contrary to law, existing law,” Cervantes said. “And I don’t think you want to do that.”

More specifically, Cervantes said the bill would unintentionally give parents the ability to give their children cannabis and that wording regarding personal possession limits was opposite of what the sponsors intended.

House-backed cannabis legalization bill heads to Senate Floor

After a series of successful and attempted amendments and three hours of debate, a House-backed legalization effort passed its last Senate committee by a 5-4 vote and is now headed to the chamber’s floor. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee debate started Wednesday night and ended early Thursday morning, though Chairman Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, reiterated his belief that HB 12 was still not ready for the Senate floor. 

HB 12, sponsored by Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, went through a number of changes that include prohibiting cannabis producers from stacking licenses, an adjustment to how production is monitored and limited, a prohibition on cannabis producers testing their own products for potency and contaminants, and a change to how the cannabis excise tax would be structured.  

But even after an extensive debate and detailed amendments, Cervantes said the bill was riddled with errors and ambiguity. 

After Cervantes went through each section and pointed out numerous instances that he said would be problematic, Romero said she and Martínez would be willing to go through them and make changes during the meeting. But Cervantes said making those changes would take too long. 

“There are a number of things in the bill that should be of great concern to you that, frankly in many cases, are just contrary to law,” Cervantes said. Cervantes voted, along with the three Republican committee members, against the measure 

Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, who sponsored a legalization attempt in 2019 agreed that the bill was not ready and called the current version “half-baked.” Moores criticized proponents of the bill for not working with him to come up with an agreeable bill. 

“My phone has been silent from the advocates on this for three years now,” Moores said. “It doesn’t seem like they wanted to get it right and there were agendas there.” 

Senate Minority Floor Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, praised the committee for meticulously going through the bill, but said there were still “glaring issues.”

Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, did not offer any comments on the final bill that passed the committee, but he also sponsored a legalization bill this year. His bill, though, would still need to pass another Senate committee and the Senate floor before going through the process again in the House.

Paid Sick Leave bill passes Senate Judiciary by slim margin

After a lengthy debate around some of the language and regulatory details of the Healthy Workplaces bill, the Senate Judiciary passed the paid sick leave proposal on a 5 to 4 vote. HB 20 would enable all private employees to accrue up to 64 hours of paid sick leave per year with an effective date of July 1, 2022. Earlier this week, the day before it was expected to be heard on the Senate floor, Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, pulled the bill and asked that it be assigned to his Senate Judiciary Committee for an amendment. Cervantes said he wanted to strike a section of the bill that stated its purpose, which the committee did so through an amendment. Republicans also added an amendment.

New Mexico not changing time change this year

Still feeling fatigued and cranky after this past weekend’s change to daylight saving time? Get used to it. A bill that would have led to the possibility of New Mexico staying on a single time year-round is dead. Members of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee voted 7-3 to table Senate Bill 102, which would make Mountain Daylight Time the state’s permanent year-round time if enabling federal legislation is passed. Though the bill’s main sponsor, Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, stressed the act would only go into effect if the federal government decides to create a nationwide daylight saving time zone, some committee members were not swayed.

Senate passes clean fuel bill despite concerns about higher gas prices

A proposal to reduce New Mexico’s carbon footprint by going after greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector fueled a spirited debate Thursday in the state Senate. At issue is whether Senate Bill 11, which would create a statewide clean fuel standard, would lead to higher prices at the gas pump for consumers, who lately have been experiencing sticker shock when they pull up to the pump. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, who disputed the notion that gas prices would shoot up, ultimately cleared the chamber on a party-line 25-14 vote — but only after a two-hour discussion that left some lawmakers wondering whether a push to protect the environment would cost consumers. “My biggest concern is what we’re going to do to gas prices in the state of New Mexico,” said Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs. “It will take a little while, but we’re going to get to a point where the people that it’s going to impact the most are low-income people.”

Civil Rights bill heads to Senate floor

A bill that would end qualified immunity as a defense for claims under the state’s Civil Rights Act passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday night with a tie-breaking vote from the chairman of the committee. Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, broke the tie on HB 4, the New Mexico Civil Rights bill, when he voted in favor. All three Republicans on the committee voted against the bill, as did Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, who said after the vote that he supports the aims of the bill but has concerns with the fact that the bill nearly aligns with the federal civil rights law “and yet there are differences.”

“I think we need to listen to some of the concerns of people who’ve tried to offer constructive commentary about the bill,” Ivey-Soto said. Testimony from the opposition came largely from county officials who continued to argue that counties will not be able to qualify for liability insurance. The bill allows lawsuits to be brought against a governmental agency if a plaintiff’s constitutional rights, as defined by the New Mexico bill of rights, has been violated.

Two cannabis legalization bills move forward

The two remaining cannabis legalization bills in the New Mexico Legislature each passed a Senate committee on Tuesday. Both bills now head to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is the last stop for one bill before its likely last floor debate. 

The Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee passed HB 12, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Javier Martínez of Albuquerque and Andrea Romero of Santa Fe, by a 7-4 party-line vote. SB 288, sponsored by Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, passed the committee unanimously after urging from Senate Majority Floor leader Peter Wirth. 

“My plan is to vote for both of these bills moving forward,” Wirth said. 

Both bills have similar provisions, especially after Pirtle amended his bill to eliminate a section that would limit the distance between dispensaries and added language that would ensure tribal governments can enter into an agreement with the state to set up their own legal cannabis program. 

Pirtle also amended his bill to prohibit any state agency from adding cannabis plant limits for producers. That change made his bill line up even closer to HB 12, until Wirth presented what he called a “lengthy amendment” backed by the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department.

Bill to keep NM on daylight saving time clears Senate

New Mexicans might no longer have to change their clocks twice a year. An ongoing effort to keep New Mexico on daylight saving time year-round passed the Senate on a 22-18 vote Friday. But it’s far from a done deal. Not only does Senate Bill 102 still need approval from the state House of Representatives, where a similar measure has languished in the past, the change could occur only “after a federal law has been enacted allowing a state to exempt itself from reverting to standard time from daylight saving time,” the bill states. “Congress would have to pass enabling legislation to allow states to do this,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell.

Senate passes bill creating state division to upgrade broadband system

Schoolchildren are still sitting in cars to access Wi-Fi hotspots to take part in virtual lessons, a leading Democratic senator told his colleagues Wednesday. That’s one reason Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, urged the Senate to support Senate Bill 93, which would create a central state office to develop and upgrade New Mexico’s broadband system. The state currently doesn’t have a blueprint for broadband, said Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque and co-sponsor of the legislation. He said creating a plan is the key focus of the bill. 

“Broadband will never happen until we put that plan in place,” Muñoz told the Senate, which voted 33-6 to support the bill following about an hour of debate Wednesday, sending the measure to the House. 

Citing a 2020 report that said despite investments of hundreds of millions of dollars, access to broadband services has remained spotty for many New Mexicans, Padilla said only by creating an agency to focus on the problem will the state solve it. 

Among other functions, the new entity would work to draw matching federal funds for every dollar New Mexico invests in its broadband system — a goal that could bring in somewhere between $9 and $13 for every dollar spent by the state, Padilla said. 

Though improvements and new investments — a total of $325 million between 2015 and 2018 — have been made in offering and expanding broadband, the fact so many state agencies play a role in the effort leads to gaps in data and service, that 2020 report said. 

That report suggested New Mexico create an anchor agency to address the issue. New Mexico often ranks near or at the bottom in national studies when it comes to broadband capability.