Legislation to legalize recreational marijuana passed the New Mexico House of Representatives Thursday.
A floor substitute for House Bill 356 (HB 356) narrowly passed the House 36 to 34, with no Republican support and 10 Democrats voting against it.
The legislation makes it legal for people ages 21 and over to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana or 8 grams of cannabis extract, according to the text of the legislation.
Recreational marijuana products would be sold in state-operated stores and lounges. A private store, however, could be licensed to sell cannabis if there is not a state-operated store within 25 miles of a county.
State Rep. Javier Martinez, one of the sponsors of the initial bill, said the regulation is meant to prevent what is known as “the green mile,” where multiple cannabis retail stores crowd downtown areas.
People will not be allowed to grow cannabis for their own personal consumption, and if they have cannabis on their person, they must have a proof of purchase or receipt to show the marijuana was legally purchased. If an individual has marijuana on them but no receipt, they could face charges.
A Cannabis Reform Commission would be established to craft and oversee licensing requirements as well as regulations related to packaging, marketing and record keeping requirements.
Provisions in the bill that passed would also expunge the records of some people who have faced charges related to marijuana offenses that would be legal under the bill, and impose a 17 percent tax on all sales of cannabis with money from the tax going to law enforcement and substance abuse treatment programs at the local and state levels.
An amendment was added to set aside 2 percent of revenue from the excise tax to use for a road safety fund.
Medical marijuana, however, would not be taxed.
An earlier version of HB 356 would have allowed people 21 and older to buy and possess recreational marijuana and also grow their own for personal use.
Halfway through the floor debate, though, Martinez proposed a substitute that combined his House bill with a similar bill in the Senate — Senate Bill 577 (SB 577) — whose sponsors included Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell.
Martinez said the bill represented a potential “watershed moment” for cannabis legalization since the legislation had bipartisan support and was crafted in the spirit of bipartisan and bicameral compromise.
Some differences existed among the House and Senate bills, Martinez said, most notably that, under the compromise bill, people will be able to possess 1 ounce and not 2 ounces of marijuana, and that people will not be able to get a license to grow their own marijuana.
Pirtle said Friday that sponsors of the House and Senate have been working to hammer out one compromise bill since SB 577 was introduced last month.
“We worked collaboratively to come up with a bill that ensures the highest public safety,” Pirtle said.
He added that he reached out to Colorado lawmakers who provided ideas on how to avoid some of the same pitfalls that state experienced when their state legalized marijuana in 2012.
If enacted, New Mexico would join the District and Columbia and 12 other states that have legalized the possession and sale of recreational marijuana.
Although still illegal at the federal level, with more states legalizing marijuana, proponents argue that legalization is inevitable and the bill presented allows the state to make it happen on their own terms.
The bill, though, has exposed rifts that blur the normal partisan divide — 10 House Democrats voted against the bill.
Last week, New Mexico Republican Chairman Steve Pearce came out against both HB 356 and SB 577 in a letter in the Albuquerque Journal.
“We know other states have legalized recreational use, but the jury is still out on how these social experiments are going to work. They are promoting a different society than the one that made us a land of opportunity,” Pearce wrote.
Pearce also ridiculed the idea of state-operated marijuana stores.
“When was the last time you have been in the MVD (Motor Vehicle Department)? That is a business run by the state. That ‘solution’ will make the problem worse,” Pearce wrote.
Pirtle said Pearce’s opinion represents that of the minority of Republicans.
“Legalization is coming and if we stand idly by and don’t offer solutions to the legalization effort, then our state will mirror states like Colorado,” he said.
Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at email@example.com.