Home News Local News Cannabis legalization bill passes Legislature

Cannabis legalization bill passes Legislature

A man walks to work at the state capitol building on Tuesday, March 30 in Santa Fe. Legislators met in a special session to revisit a sprawling set of marijuana legalization proposals that led to a deadlock during the regular session. (AP Photo)

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All Chaves County lawmakers vote against the legislation

Landmark legislation to legalize adult recreational cannabis passed the state Legislature Wednesday, bringing an end to a 36-hour special legislative session that left Chaves County lawmakers frustrated.

House Bill 2 (HB 2) passed the New Mexico House of Representatives 38 to 32 and the Senate 22 to 15. All eight legislators from Chaves County voted against it.

The bill now goes to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is expected to sign it, making New Mexico the 17th state to legalize recreational cannabis.

“This is a significant victory for New Mexico. Workers will benefit from the opportunity to build careers in this new economy. Entrepreneurs will benefit from the opportunity to create lucrative new enterprises. The state and local governments will benefit from the additional revenue. Consumers will benefit from the standardization and regulation that comes with a bona fide industry,” Lujan Grisham said.

The special session, which began Tuesday, was called by Lujan Grisham after the Senate failed to approve a House-passed legalization bill before the regular 60-day legislative session concluded March 20.

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Under HB 2, which will take effect in April 2022, individuals 21 or older can posses or purchase up to 2 ounces of cannabis, 16 grams of extract or 800 milligrams of edibles at one time.

A household will be able to grow up to 12 mature cannabis plants for personal consumption. A tax of 12% on recreational cannabis will be levied. Starting in 2025, that tax will increase by 1% annually over six years, eventually reaching 18% in 2030.

The state is expected to see up to $26.8 million in  revenue in the first year of legalization and create up to 11,000 jobs, according to a press release from House Democrats.

In his introduction of HB 2 in the House, one of the bill’s sponsors, state Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, referenced a recent poll from the Drug Policy Alliance that showed 74% of New Mexico voters likely back legalization, an indicator of what he called a sea change of how cannabis is viewed.

“We have an opportunity, as the rest of the country continues to move in this direction, to establish a framework for legalization, taxation and regulation of a substance that I believe to my core will be legalized at the federal level,” Martinez said.

Local reaction

State Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, and other critics of legalization questioned the validity of polling on legalization.

“I know that in my community, I don’t think it would poll very high,” she said. Kernan said Senate districts like hers, which are situated on the borders with both Texas and Mexico, would see an influx of people coming across the borders into New Mexico to consume cannabis and engage in illicit activity.

State Rep. Phelps Anderson, DTS-Roswell, challenged the notion that the industry could be a boon to the state’s economy.

“We should build our economic recovery on growing legal jobs and businesses. Marijuana is illegal throughout the United States and offers little hope for real recovery and jobs,” he said.

State Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, expressed concern about the effects of cannabis use on the brain development of children, and on mental health.

Martinez said the bill does not make it legal for children to use cannabis — but that children are able to gain access to it now through dealers on the streets. Legalization, he said, would allow cannabis to be regulated in a way that keeps it out of the hands of children.

Martinez said research on cannabis and its effects on mental health is limited because of the prohibition of cannabis at the federal level. He added that HB 2 allows people to apply for a research license so cannabis and its effects can better be studied.

HB 2 does not contain an option for local governments to prevent businesses that sell cannabis from operating within their communities — a so-called opt-out provision — though it does allow them to limit hours during which such businesses operate.

When HB 2 came before the House Judiciary Committee, Nibert proposed an amendment to provide a six-month period during which a locality could opt out of allowing such businesses to operate within a jurisdiction. The committee voted to table the motion.

On the House floor, Nibert urged that such a provision be included.

“As an advocate for some very small communities in the state, they have expressed to me some desire to have those types of provisions in this bill,” he said.

State Rep. Candy Ezzell, R-Roswell, described HB 2 as not well thought out, noting two amendments were added onto the bill when it came up on the House floor.

“OK, so what else have they left out of this that might be pertinent to this, to what they are trying to do here?” she asked.

One of the amendments adopted would allow for a police chief to be appointed to the Cannabis Regulatory Advisory Committee created under the bill. The second authorized the Legislative Finance Committee to study the fiscal and economic effects of legalization for the years 2023 to 2027.

House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, characterized the whole session as “kind of discombobulated.”

“Bills were introduced long before they were ready for prime time. We’re spending a lot of time trying to clean things up,” he said.

Townsend noted that in the House Judiciary Committee, 12 amendments were added to Senate Bill 2 (SB 2), which provides for expungement of arrest and conviction records for certain cannabis offenses.

Pirtle bill

Some of the harshest criticism of HB 2 came from a local legislator who has proposed legislation to legalize adult recreational cannabis.

State Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, called the bill “probably one of the most horribly written pieces of legislation I have ever read.”

Pirtle’s own legalization bill, SB 3, was also brought up for a vote in the Senate. It was defeated 36-6.

During debate on the two bills, Pirtle compared his SB 3 to HB 2, which he criticized for high licensing fees that he said will keep small farmers out of the market, over-regulating the industry. He also slammed HB 2 for giving the New Mexico Department of Regulation & Licensing authority over the issuance of all licenses, whether sale, production or other types.

Under SB 3, the Regulation and Licensing Department would have been in charge of some licenses while the Department of the Environment and Department of Agriculture would be in charge of other types of licenses.

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

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