A cannabis legalization bill passed its first committee Tuesday. The Senate Public Affairs voted 4-3 along party lines to pass SB 115 after hours of public comment and debate between lawmakers.
Even though a number of people spoke against legalization, they were largely outnumbered by those in favor of it.
For the most part, those who spoke out in opposition said they were concerned about safety and health issues like driving while impaired and addiction.
The bill’s sponsor and the committee chair, Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, did not present the bill. Instead, legalization proponent and medical cannabis patient Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, took the lead on selling the bill to the committee
Candelaria answered some concerns about testing drivers for cannabis use. There is no test for levels of cannabis like there is for alcohol. “Just because there is no test, doesn’t mean people won’t get caught for DWI,” Candelaria said.
A group convened by the governor and tasked with crafting a framework for cannabis legalization released their full recommendations on Wednesday.
Many of the recommendations from the Marijuana Legalization Work group are either consistent with or similar to legislation introduced in the 2019 legislative session. Those include protecting the medical cannabis program and its patients, giving law enforcement tools to test for cannabis use and giving New Mexicans—even those with criminal drug charges from the past—opportunities to get involved in the cannabis industry.
Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, sponsored a cannabis legalization bill earlier this year and told NM Political Report that he will sponsor another version next year based on the work group’s recommendations. Martinez’s bill was eventually combined with a competing Senate bill that proposed state-run cannabis stores. Neither of those bills made it to the governor’s desk and there’s no guarantee another proposal will get any farther in the legislative process unchanged, Martinez said.
“There’s 112 very unique voices in the legislature, so I’m sure as we go through that process improvements will be made,” he said. “We’ll see what we end up with, but two things I think are the foundation of this framework.
A group tasked with creating a proposal to legalize cannabis in New Mexico met for the second time to discuss specifics of licensing and regulation as well as how to maintain a medical cannabis program.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Working Group on Marijuana Legalization met for more than five hours on Wednesday and heard from a couple dozen members of the public.
This is for the naysayers
Pushes for cannabis legalization in the Legislature are nothing new. For years there have been attempts to legalize cannabis by changing the state constitution, as constitutional amendments do not require approval by the governor, and former Gov. Susana Martinez vocally opposed the idea. But the last legislative session showed increased signs of success for proponents. Two different bills, one that pushed for state-run stores and sponsored by Senate Republicans and another without a state-run store provision, saw increased support.
Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, sponsored a legalization bill in the House and he is now a member of the working group. Martinez said he thinks the group’s “cognitive diversity” will help convince lawmakers who are against legalization, but still open to the idea.
“I think that out of this process will emerge consensus across the board,” Martinez said.
In its inaugural meeting, a group tasked by New Mexico’s governor to come up with ideas to safely and efficiently legalize recreational use cannabis in the state discussed the process for which it will follow in the next several months.
The Working Group on Cannabis Legalization for New Mexico consists of about 20 people with varying backgrounds, including medical cannabis producers, medical cannabis patients and state departments. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham picked the members of the group.
Lujan Grisham’s senior policy advisor Dominic Gabello told members he is confident the group will be able to address the many concerns related to legalizing cannabis in New Mexico.
“We’ve put this together and I think we’ve got a good plan moving forward to discuss this and really figure out, how do we find the right path forward for New Mexico,” Gabello said. Some medical cannabis patients and producers previously raised their concerns about adequate patient representation in the group. Before Wednesday’s meeting, there was no patients in the group, but patient advocate Heath Grider was ultimately added. “I believe that everyone is doing their best to include us,” Grider said just after Wednesday’s meeting.
But, he said, the group can still use more voices, particularly from patients and businesses who might be impacted by legalization.
The group’s chair, Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis, told NM Political Report there will be more opportunities in the next eight planned meetings to include community stakeholders from across the state, including Native American tribal members and leaders and residents in rural areas.
“All those meetings are public and they can add comments ahead of time online,” Davis said.
Davis also said the group’s website will allow members of the public to see what each member thinks about a specific issue related to legalization.
“You’ll see who dissented and what the vote was,” Davis said.
And even though the group’s website is not an official state site, Davis said the whole process will be transparent and encouraged members to be aware of that .
“Assume everything you write down is public record,” Davis told the group before the meeting.
Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, who co-sponsored a bill last legislative session to legalize cannabis and establish state-run dispensaries, is also part of the group.