Marijuana Legalization Bill Clears First Legislative Hurdle in New Mexico
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Marijuana Legalization Bill Clears First Legislative Hurdle in New Mexico

The House Health and Human Services Committee passed House Bill 356 Feb. 9, but the state’s Senate could pose an obstacle.

February 14, 2019

Legislation aimed at legalizing and regulating cannabis for adult use received approval by New Mexico’s House Health and Human Services Committee Feb. 9, although passage in the Senate may be tougher, according to Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) Legislative Analyst David Boyer. Based on political trends and pressure in neighboring states, however, the bill does have a chance of becoming law this legislative session.

Democratic lawmakers introduced House Bill 356 Jan. 24 to regulate and tax recreational marijuana sales for adults 21 and older. The bill would legalize possession of up to two ounces of marijuana and up to 16 grams of extracts. It would allow individuals to grow up to six plants at home, and includes an expungement provision. The legislation would also establish a 9-percent tax on commercial cannabis sales and allows counties and cities to opt out of the market.

“We think it’s a pretty good bill to start, and state marijuana programs have evolved as they go on,” Boyer said. “It does allow cities and counties to opt out of commercial sales, which isn’t ideal, but [allowing towns to prohibit] also really adds to its chances of passing, so that’s a compromise that is generally worth it, I think, in the big picture.”

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Lawmakers spent about three hours listening to testimony and discussing concerns about workplace safety, measuring intoxication in impaired drivers and whether adult-use legalization could harm the state’s medical cannabis program before passing the proposal in a 5-2 vote, according to an Albuquerque Journal report.

The House Judiciary Committee will take up the legislation next, and if approved, the bill will go to the floor for a vote.

House Speaker Brian Egolf said last year that a legalization measure would probably pass the House this year, according to Boyer, but the Senate could block the legislation.

“The Senate’s a little bit tougher, but I think there’s a chance, as well,” Boyer said. “They’re right next to Colorado, and states are rapidly considering this.”

Some of the state’s senators have recognized that legalization is a political reality, and they want to ensure it is done correctly and that some of the tax revenue can be used to mitigate some of the more negative impacts of legalization, such as impaired driving, Boyer said.

“The more conservative members of the Senate, I think, realize that it’s a matter of how and when marijuana is made legal in New Mexico and our country, and not if it will be,” he added. “So, I think that’s why you see more and more legislatures and legislators be more open to getting in front of it and setting up a system that works for everybody.”

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham voted for cannabis reforms in Congress, where she served as a representative from 2013 to 2018, and was supportive of legalization during her gubernatorial campaign, Boyer said. “We’re optimistic that she would sign a bill if it got to her desk.”

Although it remains unclear if legalization has enough support in the legislature to ultimately get a bill to Grisham’s desk, Boyer said cannabis reform and legalization is gaining more public support every day, which bodes well for reform in New Mexico and beyond.

“I think the chances are better than ever,” he said. “The thing about cannabis legalization and reform is that once someone understands that prohibition doesn’t work, they don’t really go back to that. They don’t change their minds. So, as people see that the sky hasn’t fallen in Colorado, we gain supporters. Where we are today is the most support in the country than ever before for making marijuana legal, so we’re definitely optimistic about its chances and if not this time, definitely the next."