New Mexico’s 2021 legislative session will surely be marked with debates over education issues, state finances and abortion rights. But the Legislature is also set to weigh the pros and cons of recreational-use cannabis. In recent years, generally speaking, Democrats have pushed for legalization while Republicans have opposed it. This year, though, Democratic lawmakers expect to see multiple legalization bills, with some technical differences.
Senate leadership, along with at least two expected sponsors of legalization proposals, told NM Political Report that the goal this year is collaboration and to avoid bogging down the process.
In the House, all eyes are on Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque.
Martínez has sponsored a bill aimed at legalization nearly every year he’s been in office. His 2019 attempt arguably saw the most progress.
The New Mexico State Legislature passed a COVID-19 relief bill that would provide over $300 million in relief provided by the federal CARES Act in a very short special session that lasted less than eight hours. The bill included $194 million to provide $1,200 for those who qualify for unemployment and lost work because of the pandemic. It also would provide $100 million in grants to local small businesses and nonprofits, with smaller amounts to provide aid for rent and mortgage payments, money for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and vaccine rollout and money for households that did not receive federal stimulus money earlier this year. Update: Lujan Grisham signs COVID-19 relief package into law
The bill ultimately passed with widespread majorities in both the House and Senate, though many legislators voiced concern about the proposal and said they wished they had more input. Only one amendment to the introduced legislation passed, one that would include 501(c)8 organizations to be eligible for funds.
It is unlikely that recreational-use cannabis legalization will be the sole deciding factor for New Mexico voters when they fill out their ballots this year. But Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is a proponent of legalization and the state Legislature is expected to take up the issue next January. And according to a poll commissioned by the Albuquerque Journal this summer, a large majority of New Mexicans are in favor of legalization. At least two major medical cannabis producers contributed almost $35,000 collectively to Democratic candidates or Democratic political committees.
With the entire Legislature up for election this year, it’s hard to pinpoint whether there will be enough votes to pass any legalization attempts. But, there are a handful of state Senate and House races that could be deciding factors.
A New Mexico state senator is trying for a second time to pass a bill that would protect medical cannabis patients who live on tribal land.
Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo, said his SB 271 would protect patients from federal law enforcement scrutiny.
“We have native patients that are under this program and so when they’re off the reservation they’re legal, but as soon as they get on the reservation, federal trust land, it’s illegal because the federal government still has that as a federal violation,” Shendo said.
Shendo said he hopes that an agreement between the state Department of Health and tribal leaders will at least lower the chances of federal charges for medical cannabis patients who live on tribal land.
“We had a meeting with the feds and they felt that having some agreement with the state would be really helpful,” Shendo said.
The state’s medical cannabis law allows for patients to purchase up to about eight ounces of dried flower or buds in a rolling three month period. And even though the tribal land is physically in New Mexico, the state government has little say in what happens on or to that land.
Shendo said he isn’t sure how many medical cannabis patients live on tribal land, but that the change is still long overdue.
“This is an issue that we probably should have taken care of when the [Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use] act was enacted, but it wasn’t so we’re just trying to make that correction,” Shendo said.
The Senate Committee’s Committee, which determines whether bills fit into the governor’s legislative agenda during 30-day sessions, has not ruled the bill germane yet. But, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued an executive message earlier this week, authorizing the Senate to consider the bill.
Shendo introduced a similar bill last year that only made it through one committee before the session ended.
Bernalillo County commissioners unanimously voted to appoint Antoinette Sedillo Lopez Monday morning to fill the vacancy left by former state Senator Cisco McSorley. A long-time professor at the University of New Mexico Law School, Sedillo Lopez ended a year-long campaign for Congress last summer. She was up against a long list of opponents in the 2018 Democratic primary election, but ultimately lost to U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland. Sedillo Lopez will have about 24 hours to prepare for the legislative session, which
starts at noon on Tuesday. She said she is ready to serve and will drive to Santa Fe early Wednesday morning.
All eyes are on Governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham. With about two months until the legislative session starts and just weeks until she takes office, speculation and rumors about how she’ll run the state are growing. Lujan Grisham will appoint new department heads for the state agencies, but she has another list of important appointments to make shortly after taking office. Lujan Grisham will also have to fill state judicial vacancies and a New Mexico Senate seat in southern New Mexico as she takes office in January. During her campaign, Lujan Grisham also said she would like to see all new members of the University of New Mexico Board of Regents.
The New Mexico Senate, moving to meet a tight deadline, on Wednesday approved a new nurse licensing compact to avoid what one lawmaker described as a health care crisis. But several senators raised concerns as the bill sped through the Legislature that the compact might diminish nurses’ rights by ceding too much power to an out-of-state board about licensing in the profession. The measure would allow nurses licensed in certain other states to practice in New Mexico without getting a separate certificate. It cleared the Senate 39-0 and then received approval from a committee of the House of Representatives. That sets up a vote Thursday by the full, 70-member House of Representatives.
State Sen. Mimi Stewart will replace fellow Albuquerque Democrat Michael Padilla as Senate majority whip, elevating her to a leadership position for the first time after 23 years in the New Mexico Legislature. Senate Democrats, meeting behind closed doors Monday, chose Stewart to replace Padilla, who Senate Democrats voted to remove from the post because of an old sexual harassment case that took place before he was elected to the Senate. Stewart, a retired educator, said she believes she was chosen because of hard work. “You know I’m a teacher by trade,” she said. “I told my students, `I have eyes in the back of my head.’
Gov. Susana Martinez is getting attention, to say the least, for her onslaught of vetoes as the legislative session nears a potentially messy end. But the tension between Martinez and state lawmakers started with her early veto of the bill to fund the operations of the Legislature during the session and the interim. It continued towards the end of January, when she vetoed a much-publicized bill to allow for industrial research of hemp. February came and went with no bills headed to Martinez’s desk. But at the end of the first week of March, she rejected a measure to allow teachers to use all of their allotted sick days without absences making a negative impact on their statewide evaluation.
During a Senate floor session, a Democratic lawmaker read a statement by former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, criticizing a proposed three strikes bill. Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, took a moment to read the statement on the Senate floor. Johnson, who is seeking a presidential nomination as a Libertarian, told NM Political Report the piece was intended as an editorial for the Albuquerque Journal.Wirth said Johnson sent it to the Senate to be read on aloud on the floor. Johnson wrote specifically about a House bill sponsored by Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, that would expand the scope of the already-existing three strikes law. While Johnson specifically addressed Pacheco’s bill, he also wrote about the national trend of leaning toward more judicial discretion.