UPDATE: New Mexico Legalizes Adult-Use Cannabis
Sean Pavone | Adobe Stock

UPDATE: New Mexico Legalizes Adult-Use Cannabis

Gov. Lujan Grisham signed legislation into law April 12, after House and Senate members worked overtime to amend the bill during a special session.

April 12, 2021

This is a developing story. It has been updated to reflect the governor’s signing of the bill.

The New Mexico Legislature worked overtime, and now adult-use cannabis legalization is official with Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signing legislation into law April 12, following two days of a special session in the House and Senate at the end of March.

The lower chamber cleared the three-time amended adult-use bill, 38-32, March 31, while the upper chamber added one more amendment before passing the bill, 22-15, later that night on the Senate floor, where the bill previously stalled during the legislature’s 60-day regular session that concluded March 20—a halt that sparked Lujan Grisham’s call for the special session.

The House reconvened shortly after the Senate’s March 31 passage to concur the upper chamber’s amendment to the bill, before officially sending it to Lujan Grisham for signing—with her ink this week, New Mexico became the 18th state to legalize adult-use cannabis.

“This is a good bill,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement following the legislature’s passage.

“This special session was a success,” she said. “And the work of making sure that this industry is a success, that New Mexicans are able to reap the full economic and social benefit of legalized adult-use cannabis, that workplace and roadway safety are assured to the greatest degree possible—that work will go on. Change never comes easily and rarely does it occur as quickly as we might like. But with this major step forward, we are signaling more clearly than ever before that we are ready, as a state, to truly break new ground, to think differently about ourselves and our economic future, to fearlessly invest in ourselves and in the limitless potential of New Mexicans.”

One key amendment adopted in special session House Bill 2, which was a continuation of H.B. 12, the Cannabis Regulation Act that the body passed Feb. 26, includes raising the excise tax on cannabis products from 12% to 18% over the course of six years, beginning in 2024, according to chief sponsor Rep. Javier Martinez (D). Under the bill, roughly 4% of the excise tax would be distributed back to the local communities where the cannabis is sold, whether it’s a city or county municipality, Martinez said on the floor March 31.

The House Tax Committee approved the amended excise tax portion of the bill during the first day of the special session on March 30.

“As we embark on building a brand-new industry and we get to set the rules of the game for how this industry will play out … this is a good opportunity to actually raise revenue,” Martinez said. “If we’re going to do this, we might as well get the most we can get without overdoing it to the point where we are maybe undercutting our efforts to get rid of the illicit markets. So, that’s the number we settled on—18% excise tax.”

According to Martinez, economic projections indicate that adult-use legalization would create more than 11,000 jobs and generate $28.6 million in tax revenue in the first year of implementing a program, which H.B. 2 aims to activate no later than April 1, 2022.

Another amendment to H.B. 2 directs 100% of revenue distributions to the state’s general fund, Martinez said on floor.  

“We heard from members of both parties; we heard from members of both chambers that earmarking dollars at this stage of the game, when the framework isn’t even legalized, when revenue isn’t even coming in yet, was not a good idea,” he said. “And, so, we’ve conceded that point. We removed all specialty funds that we had created under the legislation. That’s not to say those funds will not come back.”

Martinez said he’s committed to ensuring those funds are established through legislation in the next regular session, particularly a rural equity fund that provides rural communities that would want to join the industry access to capital and business development support mechanisms. 

Meanwhile, several main proposals of the adult-use bill remained intact, such as allowing adults 21 and older to possess no more than 2 ounces of cannabis, 16 grams of cannabis extract or 800 milligrams of edible cannabis. Adults will be allowed to grow up to six immature plants and six matures plants per household for personal use. The bill also creates 10 license types, ranging from the needs of large-scale vertically integrated companies to small-scale microbusinesses.

Additional foundational principles of the bill include protecting and enhancing New Mexico’s medical cannabis program as well as ensuring social justice when it comes to providing reinvestments toward communities disproportionately affected by prohibition, Martinez said.

During the first day of the special session in the upper chamber, the Senate Judiciary Committee added 11 amendments to an accompanying Senate Bill 2, an expungement measure for certain low-level cannabis arrests and convictions. The next day, on March 31, S.B. 2 passed a full roll call in the Senate, 23-13, and the House, 41-28. Lujan Grisham also signed S.B. 2 into law April 12. 

According to S.B. 2, those serving jail time for cannabis-related offenses would have their cases reviewed by corrections officials within 30 days following the effective date of the Democrat-sponsored bill. In addition, the bill states by April 1, 2022 the New Mexico Department of Public Safety shall review the public records in the state’s criminal history databases and identify all past convictions that are potentially eligible for recall, dismissal and expungement.

The legislature’s passage of the adult-use cannabis and cannabis expungement bills won’t be the end of cannabis regulation in New Mexico; it will only be the beginning, said Sen. Katy Duhigg (D), who sponsored S.B. 2.

“I know that there are going to be a lot of additional improvements in the future going forward,” she said March 31 night on the Senate floor. “But what we have now in House Bill 2 is a solid framework to be able to make a change in our state that is a long time coming.”

Martinez, who has introduced legalization bills four times to House endorsements without final approval, said the adult-use bill that was passed by both chambers on March 31 has been “written, rewritten and amended.”

Nearly 75% of New Mexicans approve of cannabis legalization with provisions in place to ensure tax revenue is reinvested back into communities, including 94% of Democrats, 93% of Independents and 46% of Republicans, according to the Drug Policy Alliance.