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Governor to make cannabis legalization a priority

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A bill to legalize recreational cannabis in New Mexico failed to make it to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk this session, but a local lawmaker said she has committed to making it a priority next year.

“The governor has stated she will put it on the call,” state Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, said Sunday.

The governor’s call is the term used to refer to the governor’s agenda for a 30-day legislative session.

Pirtle added he and other advocates will work with Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, during the interim period between sessions to craft legislation and address the concerns of lawmakers who might be hesitant to vote for legalization.

Lujan Grisham’s office confirmed Tuesday that cannabis legalization is on her agenda.

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“The governor looks forward to working with legislators and a variety of stakeholders during the interim to reach an agreement on recreational cannabis legalization legislation that addresses the concerns that (the) governor has stated many times before, including protecting medical cannabis and addressing public safety concerns, among other things,” said Nora Sackett, deputy press secretary to Lujan Grisham.

She said that Lujan Grisham was encouraged by bills proposed this session to legalize recreational cannabis and that pieces from different proposals look promising going forward.

Legislation to legalize cannabis came up this year in two bills, including one crafted and co-sponsored by Pirtle.

Senate Bill 577 (SB 577) would have legalized possession of half an ounce or less of cannabis for recreational use by adults 21 and older. Under the bill cannabis would be sold at state operated stores. Individuals would not be allowed to grow it for personal consumption.

Pirtle’s bill passed both the Senate Public Affairs and Judiciary Committees and was on its way to the Senate Finance Committee when the session ended Saturday.

A similar proposal — House Bill 356 (HB 356) — narrowly passed the House 36 to 34 in March. Ten House Democrats joined all Republicans in the chamber to opposes passage.

HB 356 incorporated many elements from SB 577. It would have allowed people 21 and older to possess and use up to one ounce of cannabis or eight grams of cannabis extract. A person with cannabis on them would have to have a receipt or proof of purchase to show they legally obtained the cannabis.

Like SB 577, HB 356 would have allowed the sale of cannabis products in state-regulated stores, but prohibit people from growing their own for personal use.

A privately owned store however, licensed by the state, could be established in an area that was more than 25 miles from a state-operated store.

Other elements of the bills would establish a state commission in charge of licensing and record keeping, regulations for producers and stores, as well as regulating how cannabis products are packaged and marketed.

Both bills would implement a 17 percent tax on cannabis products with the money generated going to state and local law enforcement and substance abuse programs.

HB 356 also created a road safety fund that would receive 2 percent of revenue generated by the tax.

Pirtle and other backers of the bills say the proposals legalize recreational marijuana in a responsible way, while mitigating some of the social problems that have arisen in other states that have legalized it.

Recreational cannabis is now legal in 12 states and the District of Columbia.

Vermont is the only state legislature that has voted to legalize cannabis. In the other states and the District of Columbia, cannabis has been legalized through ballot initiatives, starting in 2012 with Colorado and Washington.

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