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Local Republicans react to cannabis bill

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Teresa Barncastle, president of the Chaves County Republican Federated Women, speaks at the group’s monthly meeting Wednesday. (Alex Ross Photo)

Legislation to legalize the sale and use of recreational cannabis through state-managed outlets is winning varying degrees of support from some local Republicans.

Senate Bill 577, (SB 577), known as the Cannabis Control Act, was passed by the Senate Public Affairs Committee Saturday 5 to 0. The bill next heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

State Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell and fellow Republicans Cliff Brandt of Rio Rancho and Mark Moores of Albuquerque introduced the bill, which has support from Democrats Jacob Candelaria and Gerald Ortiz Y Pino of Albuquerque and John Saipen of Corrales.

The 112-page bill legalizes recreational cannabis for users 21 or older and allows for retail sales occurring at state-managed stores and lounges, but does not allow for people to grow their own cannabis at home for personal use.

A new state agency — the Cannabis Control Commission — would be established to handle licensing of businesses, implement regulations, put in place consumer protections and police illegal market activity.

Sales of cannabis would be subject to a 17-percent tax with five percent going to a gross receipts tax, four percent to the state, four percent to the county and a 4 percent excise tax. The money would go toward state and local behavioral health and law enforcement efforts.

The tide of public opinion has turned in recent years with 10 states and the District of Columbia legalizing recreational cannabis. This legislative session at least one other bill, House Bill 356, has been introduced that would legalize recreational cannabis, and allow people to grow it for their own use.

Teresa Barncastle, president of the Chaves Country Republican Federated Women, told attendees at the organization’s monthly meeting Wednesday that although she opposes legalization, the bill represents a way to address the effects of legalization before it becomes a reality.

“So it is really a pre-emptive strike, something that was already going to happen anyway, but let’s get the best model,” she said.

Pirtle said his bill does exactly that by working to prevent access to cannabis by minors, or main streets from becoming overcrowded with cannabis shops.

He said the feedback from his colleagues and constituents so far has been positive.

“They appreciate what we have taken on and although some of them will not vote for it, they recognize that legalization is imminent and that we should have a seat at the table on how to regulate cannabis responsibly,” Pirtle said.

Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said this session marijuana has been a topic of conversation in Santa Fe, whether it be legalization, use of medical marijuana in schools, efforts to reduce criminal penalties to civil penalties for possession or hemp manufacturing.

Ingle said he has read some of the bill, and remains open to it. He said though he does not much care for legalizing recreational cannabis, the legislation does take an interesting approach by requiring the state operate the facilities.

“If were going to do that (legalize cannabis), something we might want to look at is who gets the revenue,” he said.

Ingle though said before lawmakers go about legalizing recreational cannabis, there is a lot that needs to be discussed, such as issues in the workplace pertaining to worker’s compensation and whether cannabis can be used in the workplace.

“These things are really easy sometimes to pass and then we regret not putting a little more teeth into them or putting some more regulations on it,” Ingle said.

He added that however the vote ultimately turns out on legalization, Ingle said it will likely be close in the Senate and not a clear party-line vote.

“I think it is going to be real scattered,” he said.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.