Amid music, balloons, cheering and a final countdown on the clock, Jeremy Sandoval became the first person in New Mexico to buy legal recreational-use cannabis just a few minutes after 12 a.m. Friday in Las Cruces. Sandoval, who lives in Las Cruces, said he arrived at the R. Greenleaf Organics store near the Mesilla Valley Mall at 6 p.m. He was the first person to show up. “I’m just excited,” he said. “It’s a milestone. It’s something we’ve all been waiting for.”
When Sandoval walked into the store, he was greeted by a frenzy of local press and Justin Dye, chairman and chief executive officer for Schwazze, which owns R. Greenleaf.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced on Friday “historic” intergovernmental agreements with two pueblos that will allow the sovereign nations to take part in the state’s newly established recreational-use cannabis industry.
According to the governor’s office announcement, leaders of the Picuris and Pojoaque pueblos each signed an agreement with the state that will “support the pueblos taking part in the recreational cannabis industry, driving economic development and setting guidelines for the safe production and sale of cannabis while preventing federal enforcement on their tribal lands.”
While the use, possession and home-cultivation of adult-use cannabis became legal last year and sales are slated to begin next week, cannabis is still illegal on the federal level. But the Cannabis Regulation Act, which is the law that legalized recreational-use cannabis, includes a provision that allows the state and tribal governments to enter into agreements like the ones announced on Friday. According to the announcement, the agreements between the state and the two sovereign governments are different from those in other states like Nevada.
“These agreements not only formalize pro-tribal policies, such as a state duty to consult and incorporate tribal concepts and policies related to cannabis, but also are the only [intergovernmental agreements] in the nation that provide for ongoing meetings and consultations between state and tribe,” the announcement read.
The Picuris Pueblo had previously tried to set up its own medical cannabis program after New Mexico legalized medical cannabis use, but the federal government shut the program down. Since then, there have been a few unsuccessful attempts by state lawmakers to pass a law allowing tribal governments to start their own medical cannabis program. Picuris Governor Craig Quanchello, through the governor’s office announcement, praised the agreement for respecting the Pueblo’s sovereignty, while also allowing collaboration between the two governments.
Two state senators on opposite sides of the political aisle introduced competing bills Monday to legalize recreational marijuana in New Mexico. A third proposal, also filed Monday, is expected to be formally introduced Tuesday in the House of Representatives, and other bills could be forthcoming. The push to legalize cannabis for recreational adult use comes after previous efforts failed under a more conservative group of New Mexico lawmakers. It also comes as the state government seeks to diversify its revenue sources to reduce its heavy reliance on oil and gas. But the two senators who introduced the first cannabis legalization bills of this year’s 60-day legislative session, and the state director of the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance, said generating revenue shouldn’t be the driving force.
Election Day in New Mexico resulted in a slight expansion of the state’s Senate, and a very slightly reduced, but still large, House Democratic majority. But while New Mexico voters cast their votes on Tuesday, voters in neighboring Arizona voted overwhelmingly to legalize recreational-use cannabis, something the New Mexico Legislature has not been able to pull off, despite years of attempts.
Arizona may be at least a year away from seeing any significant tax revenue from legalized cannabis, but the proposition included an expungement provision and will allow medical cannabis dispensaries to start selling it for recreational-use by next spring, just as the New Mexico Legislature is set to wrap up their regular legislative session.
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Whether social and restorative justice or tax revenue is most important seems to be a matter of opinion among proponents and advocates. But most agree that it is imperative that New Mexico lawmakers legalize recreational-use cannabis next year if they want to achieve parity with the neighboring state to the west.
What’s at stake
In the past several years, legalization efforts have stalled in the Senate, which has been more consevative on many issues, including cannabis. Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe said he’s optimistic the Senate seats Democrats picked up on Election Day will help get a cannabis legalization bill to the governor’s desk.
“No question our landscape has changed internally in the Senate with seven new members and voters having spoken loudly and clearly,” Wirth said. “One of the issues that I’ve been very cognizant about is not losing the opportunity to move forward with recreational cannabis.
With eight days left in the legislative session, passing a cannabis legalization bill is looking more and more like a long-shot. But there are three other bills related to cannabis and hemp that have been moving through committee assignments, some with little to no debate or opposition.
The two cannabis legalization bills have stalled so far in both legislative chambers. The Senate version passed its first committee and is scheduled to be heard Wednesday afternoon in its second. The House version of legalization has yet to be heard in its first committee. Both bills are politically divisive and will likely be subjected to hours of public testimony and legislative debate.