New Mexico lawmakers unveiled legislation Jan. 16 to legalize adult-use cannabis in the state, and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham seems eager to sign the bill should it make it through the legislature, but Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico State Director Emily Kaltenbach says continued advocacy efforts and education are key to a successful legalization attempt this year.
“These bills definitely could pass,” she told Cannabis Business Times. “The question, I think, is we still have a few senators who have been on the fence about it.”
New Mexico legislators considered two competing adult-use legalization bills last year, and although one proposal gained House approval and even cleared a Senate panel, the legislation ultimately stalled in the Senate at the close of last year’s legislative session.
Grisham in turn recruited policy experts to serve on a committee tasked with providing recommendations on legalization, and has renewed her push for policy reform this year, announcing last week that she was officially adding legalization to the 2020 legislative agenda.
The result is NM S.B.115, which was put forth last week by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino. A companion bill has been introduced in the House by Rep. Javier Martinez, and Kaltenbach expects more legislators to sign on as the legislative session progresses.
Although similar to last year’s legalization proposals, this year’s legislation has a few major differences, Kaltenbach said.
“This bill does not allow local jurisdictions to opt out, nor does it allow home grow,” she said. “Both of those provisions were in last year’s bill.”
This year’s proposal allocates some of the revenue for substance use disorder treatment programs, job training and education programs in the state. It also eliminates the state’s gross receipts tax for medical cannabis sales and creates a subsidy program for low income patients in an effort to maintain a robust medical program post-legalization.
“This bill has a greater emphasis on putting medical patients first, something that we’ve seen and learned from other states can be problematic, where there may not be enough products for medical patients,” Kaltenbach said. “[We want to make] sure that the medical program is a priority and medical patients are a priority, … so some of the revenue goes to the Department of Health to fund low-income patients who can’t afford their medicine.”
To support the communities most impacted by prohibition, the bill requires the development of a plan to help both communities and small businesses access the necessary capital to launch and grow New Mexico-based cannabis businesses. The legislation also allows for a “micro business” license to help small family farms and entrepreneurs enter the market.
“We need to put New Mexico families and communities first over outside business interests,” Kaltenbach said. “We need to grow this new market within New Mexico for New Mexicans.”
Another aspect of the bill would create a license type to allow local colleges to create cannabis training and certification programs.
“That’s really important from a workforce training perspective, making sure that we’re putting local communities first in developing both a work force and business capacity so that it’s a very homegrown business versus national conglomerates coming in,” Kaltenbach said. “There’s a lot of emphasis on how to support small, local businesses.”
The bill also includes provisions to automatically expunge the records of those with past cannabis possession-related convictions.
“We have a new expungement law in New Mexico, but it has to be by petition,” Kaltenbach said. “This would actually create an automatic expungement process for a group of folks who have been charged and have that on their records.”
In addition, the bill aims to protect the state’s natural resources by requiring license holders to outline a plan demonstrating how they will utilize energy and water reduction opportunities to increase the overall efficiency of their operations.
The legislation also outlines robust consumer protection efforts, including cannabis testing standards, childproof packaging requirements and state-mandated warning labels. Advertising rules are also included in the bill.
The Drug Policy Alliance has been working on cannabis policy reform and legalization efforts in New Mexico for nearly 10 years. The organization helped draft this year’s legalization legislation, as well as last year’s legalization bills, and Kaltenbach served on the state’s governor-appointed task force charged with making recommendations for an adult-use program.
“We’re seeing a larger movement in the state supporting legalization,” Kaltenbach said. “We have been advocating every year for cannabis proposals that are grounded in equity—both social and economic equity—addressing racial justice issues and … [coming] from a public health perspective, making sure that young people don’t have access. … We’ve been a pretty loud voice there for many years.”
Recent polling has shown that 73% of New Mexicans support legalization, she added. “That is really high and cuts across the state. It’s upwards of 90% of Democrats, 80% of Independents and 49% of Republicans. Every year we’ve been polling, we’ve seen an increase in support. … I’m encouraged that our legislators will listen to their constituents and pass something that’s right for New Mexico.”
Momentum has certainly been building in the statehouse—last year marked the first time that a legalization measure passed the New Mexico House.
Kaltenbach said last year’s competing bills likely divided lawmakers on the issue, and advocates are learning from past mistakes.
“There was a Senate version that was introduced by a group of Republican senators that had state-run stores,” she said. “I think that is a controversial concept, so some legislators supported it, some didn’t. When you have two competing bills, I think that can always be a challenge.”
However, Kaltenbach remains hopeful that a new year will bring a fresh perspective on the issue. “I think every year is a new year. We’re going to learn from past years, but I think that there definitely is a path to success—a path to win."