New Mexico’s 2019 Legislative Session: Cannabis’s Wins and Losses
Top photo: © Zack Frank | Adobe Stock

New Mexico’s 2019 Legislative Session: Cannabis’s Wins and Losses

While adult-use legalization efforts failed this year, the state legislature passed measures to decriminalize cannabis and expand the state’s medical marijuana program.

March 25, 2019

Lawmakers contemplated several cannabis issues during New Mexico’s two-month legislative session this year, although ultimately an adult-use legalization effort stalled in committee. The bills that did make it to the governor’s desk include legislation addressing decriminalization, medical marijuana expansion and industrial hemp.

The state’s 2019 legislative session ran from Jan. 15 through March 16, and lawmakers approved:

  • SB 323 to decrease marijuana penalties,
  • SB 406 to make changes to the medical marijuana program,
  • SB 204 to allow medical marijuana in schools and
  • HB 581 to address hemp manufacturing in the state.

The decriminalization bill reduces first-time penalties for up to half an ounce of marijuana possession from 15 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine to only a $50 fine.

“Obviously, that’s the big win because folks were looking at jail time for possession of the amount they decriminalized,” said David Boyer, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “We’re waiting on the governor to sign it, but Michelle Lujan Grisham is for legalization, so I don’t think this is going to cause too much heartburn for her. I expect she’ll sign it and let it go into law.”

The medical marijuana legislation adds PTSD, chronic pain and Lou Gehrig’s disease, among others, to the state’s list of qualifying conditions, as well as establishes protections that prohibit employers from discriminating against patients in the hiring process.

Lawmakers also passed a measure that allows medical marijuana patients to renew their registry cards every three years instead of annually, as is now required. The legislation also creates medical marijuana reciprocity for visitors from other states where it is legal; the Department of Health must adopt rules for the reciprocity program by Dec. 20.

In addition, the passage of SB 204 will allow certified students to use medical marijuana at public schools, excluding the use of inhaled or smoked cannabis.

The industrial hemp measure tees up the commercial production of hemp and hemp extracts in compliance with the Farm Bill.

“Other states are doing this that don’t have any kind of medical marijuana because [hemp is] federally legal now, but it’s definitely great for businesses and patients that can benefit from hemp and CBD,” Boyer said.

Gov.  Michelle Lujan Grisham must sign the bills into law by April 5, and the legislation will then go into effect June 14.

While legislation to legalize adult-use cannabis advanced this year, it ultimately stalled in the Senate.

“It passed out of one committee, but the chair of the Senate Finance Committee didn’t bring it up to a vote, so it didn’t get the opportunity to vote on it,” Boyer said. “Usually, they’ll do that if they don’t think the votes are there or the chair themselves is not partial to that legislation.”

The debate is far from over, though, as Grisham has said that she will add the issue to the agenda of the 2020 legislative session.

“The governor did say a couple days ago that she wants to make that another priority next session, in the 30-day session … in 2020,” Boyer said. “So, it’s not the last we’ll see of the legalization bill, for sure.”

For an organization like MPP, shorter legislative sessions like New Mexico’s can take more preparation to get cannabis policy reform efforts to pass, Boyer said.

“We definitely have to prioritize the shorter sessions and make sure we’re up to date on what’s going on there,” he said. “There are only so many staffers we have, so we have to plan things correctly so we’re not missing any sessions. Then there’s the political reality [that] in the short sessions, … it’s harder to get things brought up [when there] are either more important [issues] than legalization or [issues that] have a better chance of passage. Politicians only have so much attention, and we’re all vying for that and to get them to support marijuana policy reform, but sometimes that’s a hard sell when there’s an opioid crisis in the state and they want to focus on that, or they just see as marijuana as adding to that crisis, which we obviously disagree with and think the opposite.”

Overall, though, Boyer sees progress in New Mexico, and expects the momentum to continue.

“I think with the progress with [decriminalization], it’s all about adult-use now,” he said. “Of course, [it’s important to tinker with] and continually [improve] upon the medical marijuana program, which, thankfully, was done some this session. But at this point, it’s time for all adults 21 and up to have access to a substance that’s objectively safer than alcohol."