A New Mexico House of Representatives committee on Monday approved a comprehensive marijuana legalization bill.

MP Javier Martinez’s (D) bill is one of several legalisation proposals tabled in the 2021 session. Another reform project, sponsored by MP Tara Lujan (D), was also considered by the health and social services committee on Monday but was rejected.

The expert group recommended that Mr. Martinez’s bill be approved by a 7 to 4 vote and sent to other committees before being presented to the entire expert group for a vote. The Lujan legislation passed by a 7-4 vote.

Under the approved measure, adults 21 and older would be allowed to possess at least two ounces of cannabis and grow up to six mature and six immature plants for personal use. It would also set up a system for regulating and taxing the sale of cannabis.

The bill has the support of reform advocates because, unlike other measures in the House and Senate, it would specifically use marijuana tax revenues for reinvestment in communities hardest hit by the war on drugs. This is also illustrated by the inclusion of provisions for the automatic exclusion of prior cannabis-related convictions.

Under Mr. Martinez’s proposal, the market rules should be in place by January 2022. Meanwhile, existing medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed to sell adult-use marijuana starting in October.

The committee held a hearing on both bills Saturday, but the hearing was postponed and committee members did not vote to continue consideration of them. At the first meeting, however, they accepted Martinez’s alternative proposal.

The provision that individuals must be able to prove that the marijuana they possess was obtained from a legal source was removed. Members also included a provision limiting the sale of equipment to licensed dispensaries.

In addition, the revised bill passed by the Commission would also allow tribal governments to participate in the new industry. Also, small businesses, which get so-called micro-enterprise permits, could start their operations earlier than large companies to help them get started.

At Monday’s meeting, lawmakers discussed additional amendments, but the consensus was that it would be better to deal with them later, either in separate committees or in the House.

The separate House of Representatives legalization bill pending before the committee has a more limited scope than the Martinez legislation. This would create a system of regulated commercial sales of cannabis and impose a 20 percent sales tax on marijuana products, the proceeds of which would be used to fund state and local governments.

The Luján bill does not include the cost-saving and social-justice measures that HB 12 has and would, but only decriminalizes domestic cultural use. Growing up to three plants would result in a $500 fine; any other plant would remain a misdemeanor. The proposal would limit the number of commercial mining permits that could be issued, another difference from Mr. Martinez’s bill, which would not allow the state to set such limits.

The wording of the Lucan’s bill is identical to that of separate legislation sponsored by the Senator. Daniel Ivy-Soto (D), which was filed earlier this month.

Meanwhile, Senator Cliff Pirtle (right), who introduced a legalization bill in 2019 that would have created a public market, also recently proposed a reform that would have created a private for-profit industry. Adults 21 and older may purchase and possess up to two ounces of marijuana.

The third proposal for legalization in the Senate, sponsored by Senator Jacob Candelaria (D), is similar to the Martinez bill. These three questions have been referred to the Senate Committee on Taxation, Trade and Transportation, but no hearing has yet been scheduled.

Mr. Martinez’s bill will then be submitted to the House of Representatives’ Committee on Taxation and Revenue, of which he is chairman.

#HB12 works! Join us in our work to create a cannabis legalization system that is smart, compassionate, and fair. #nmleg # @ARomero_NM @DPANewMexico @NMHouseDems https://t.co/hpreoUGg9X

– Javier Martinez (@JavierForNM) February 14, 2021

For her part, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) has repeatedly stressed the need for legalization as a means of stimulating the economy, especially in light of a coronavirus pandemic. She said in a speech this month that a crisis like last year’s can be seen as a loss or an invitation to rethink the status quo, to be ambitious, creative and courageous.

The governor also included cannabis legalization in her 2021 legislative agenda, which she announced last month, and said in a recent interview that she is still very optimistic about cannabis this session.

This optimism is bolstered by the fact that last year, progressive candidates in the primaries ousted a number of Democrats who opposed legalization, including the Senate President and the Chairman of the Finance Committee.

Additional pressure to lift cannabis prohibition this year comes from neighboring Arizona, where voters approved legalization in November and sales officially began last week.

New Mexico shares another border with Colorado, one of the first states to legalize its use for adults. Cannabis is also to be legalized on Mexico’s southern border, and the Supreme Court has ordered lawmakers to lift the ban in April.

Last year, a bill to legalize cannabis for adults was approved by one New Mexico Senate committee and had to be rejected by another before the end of the 30-day session.

In early 2019, the House of Representatives passed a legalization bill that included provisions to sell marijuana primarily in state stores, but it died in the Senate. Later in the year, Lujan Grisham formed a working group to study cannabis legalization and make recommendations.

Polls show that voters are ready to change policies. An October poll found that an overwhelming majority of New Mexicans favor legalization with social justice provisions, and about half favor broader decriminalization of drug possession.

Last May, the governor indicated that she was considering a vigorous campaign against lawmakers who blocked her 2020 legalization bill. She also said she was willing to let voters decide on a policy change via referendum if lawmakers failed to send a legalization bill to her desk.

The DEA wants to know applicants’ cannabis and CBD use, but only in the pre-legalization phase.

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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