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Marijuana sales will be legal in New Mexico next year following passage of a bill Wednesday, March 31, on the second day of a special session called by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham after a similar bill had failed to pass during the regular session.
The legislation, which takes effect in April 2022, will allow adults age 21 and older to purchase up to two ounces of cannabis flower, 16 grams of extract and 800 milligrams of edible cannabis at one time. They can possess more than that if stored at their private residence.
The bill would also allow residents to grow their own marijuana plants, with a limit of up to six mature plants and six immature plants per person, and up to 12 mature plants per household if there are at least two adults living there. And, it will allow for consumption rooms where marijuana could be smoked in public.
Bill sponsor, Sen. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, said perceptions about marijuana have shifted dramatically in the past few years. Recent polling shows that 74 percent of state residents now support legalization, up from just 34 percent in 2007, he said.
“It’s not like we’re bringing cannabis to our society for the first time ever. It’s been with us for a long time,” Martinez said, adding that illegal sales are much more dangerous than those done in a regulated market.
Once the bill is signed by the governor, New Mexico will join a growing number of states that have legalized marijuana for adult use. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation Wednesday morning, joining 16 other states that have also legalized the drug, which still remains illegal under federal law.
Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, who is enrolled in the state’s medical marijuana program for treatment of PTSD, held up a vial of cannabis extract on the Senate floor and announced that he would be vaping it once the session ended.
“Cannabis does not have a net negative impact on a person’s life,” he said. “I’d like you to look at me as Exhibit A. I have a lot of problems, but cannabis is not one of them.”
But Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, said the bill had “very serious unintended consequences.”
He said all of the concerns he had raised during the regular session had been addressed, including a provision that would have allowed parents to provide marijuana for their children at home. But there were still serious problems with the bill that will impact our youth, he said.
The law on growing plants at home has a $50 penalty per plant for those age 21 and older who exceed the limit, but for minors the penalty is a four-hour class and four hours of community service.
“The plant count becomes meaningless because you can blame it on your child,” Cervantes said. “Drug dealers are going to have 16-year-olds growing plants for them.”
He also questioned a provision in the bill that would allow youth to smoke marijuana in public without the risk of penalty.
“What do we think is going to happen at the Friday-night football games? What is that family event going to turn into when we have 15- and 16-year-olds smoking pot without consequences; expressly without consequences?” he asked.
Martinez said it was a policy decision. “What we’re trying to do is not criminalizing young people,” he said.
Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, said marijuana legalization does not have close to 74 percent approval in her area of the state, and she was disappointed there is not a local option for communities that do not want to allow legal sales.
“I just think it’s unfair to impose this kind of change in our way of life in areas that don’t support it,” she said. “It’s terribly unfair not to allow us to make that decision for ourselves. Our state is the third highest in poverty, and people will be spending whatever money they have to buy mind-altering drugs.”
Martinez said law enforcement requested that there be no local opt-out because it would make enforcement more difficult. And, he said local communities have some control through zoning laws.
The bill was amended in the House Taxation and Revenue Committee to increase the excise tax from 12 percent in the first four years to 18 percent by fiscal year 2031. Estimates as to how much new revenue the law will generate varied wildly. The fiscal impact report estimates that it will bring in more than $15 million by fiscal year 2024.
Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, said some of that new revenue should be used for drug treatment programs. He had an amendment prepared, but did not introduce it because of time limitations; he vowed to work on it before the new law goes into effect next spring.
The bill passed 38-32 in the House and 22-15 in the Senate. Cervantes participated in the debate but was excused from the vote.
The Legislature considered two separate legalization bills. A proposal by Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, would have eliminated the plant count and spread out the regulatory authority over three different agencies. It was defeated in the Senate.
The Legislature also passed a separate bill Wednesday that will allow those with past convictions for offenses that would not be illegal once the new law is implemented to have their criminal records expunged and to be released from jail.
Lujan Grisham said the special session was a success.
“Change never comes easily and rarely does it occur as quickly as we might like,” she said in a prepared statement. “But with this major step forward, we are signaling more clearly than ever before that we are ready, as a state, to truly break new ground, to think differently about ourselves and our economic future, to fearlessly invest in ourselves and in the limitless potential of New Mexicans.”
Walter Rubel can be reached at email@example.com.