Lawmakers have already introduced a number of legalization bills during the 2021 legislative session, which is approaching the midterm elections that will end on the 20th. The month of March must end. In addition to the two House measures weighed in during Saturday’s three-hour hearing in the Health and Human Services Committee, three other measures were filed in the Senate.
These five bills legalize the commercial use and sale of marijuana and provide for tax rates of 16% to 20%.
Of the House’s two proposals, HB 12 is the more comprehensive at nearly 200 pages.
We know that the war on drugs has been a complete failure, said Javier Martinez (D), the bill’s lead sponsor. We know that this country and its attitude towards drug use is changing, especially with regard to cannabis.
His bill would legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older, allow the cultivation of marijuana in the country, regulate and tax the commercial industry, and overturn previous convictions for cannabis possession. The tax revenue will fund equal opportunity programs for black and brown communities and support low-income patients who use marijuana for medical purposes.
Supporters of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and other organizations favor this bill because it emphasizes social justice to help communities affected by the war on drugs.
Emily Kaltenbach, DPA senior director for the home states and New Mexico, said Saturday’s hearing was a good sign for legalization in general. This shows that legalization in New Mexico is going forward, she said later.
Another positive that came out of the committee today was the emphasis on equality and social justice, Kaltenbach added. Legislators and the public have reiterated the importance of including these provisions in a bill.
The second legalization proposal considered by the group was HB 17, a smaller bill supported by the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce (NMCC) and other industry members. It would legalize commercial cannabis and impose a 20 percent flat sales tax, funded by state and local governments. The initiator, Tara Lujan (D), described the bill as the most direct route to responsible legalization of cannabis for people over 21.
The bill does not provide for the spending and social justice measures of HB 12, and only the decriminalization of home cultivation of up to three plants would result in a $500 fine, while cultivation of more plants would remain a felony. Commercial mining permits would be restricted, while HB 12 would prohibit the state from restricting mining.
Ben Lewinger, executive director of the NMCCC, cautioned lawmakers not to want to accomplish too much in one bill.
That’s what the effort to add into the bill what was absolutely necessary, with the very simple goal of legalizing cannabis for adults, protecting patients in the medical program and creating something that would have an absolute chance of getting the governor elected, Lewinger said, : The industry, as it currently exists in New Mexico, is the state’s expert on cannabis.
For his part, Mr. Kaltenbach of the DPA stated that HB 12 is a better result.
It was clear today that Bill 12 was the strongest proposal in the House and had broad support, she said. There are some provisions here and there, but it is very clear that House Bill 12 should be the vehicle in which this should happen.
During the question and answer portion of Saturday’s hearing, an industry representative also spoke out against allowing marijuana cultivation in the home. He said it would be difficult for law enforcement to make sure people don’t grow too many plants and sell their products on the illegal market.
Both House bills would eliminate taxes for patients in the state’s existing medical marijuana program.
House Bill 12: The law on the regulation of cannabis already rests with the Ministry of Health. See here: https://t.co/kK0UyGUpJP #nmleg #nmpol
– NM House Democrats (@NMHouseDems) February 13, 2021
Mr. Martinez’s proposal would have saved the state nearly $16 million a year, in addition to more than $7 million for local communities, according to an estimate in the tax impact report. In the meantime, the Luján law is expected to generate more than $48 million for the state and more than $25 million for local governments.
Prior to the public hearing, jury foreman Deborah Armstrong (D), co-sponsor of HB 12, conducted an informal survey of the audience attending Saturday’s Zoom hearing, asking attendees to indicate whether they were for or against the two bills.
The majority said they supported both bills, but HB 12 was more popular. Of the 87 votes, 81% were for HB 12. Seventy-one percent stated they supported HB 17.
The group adopted an alternative version of HB 12 updating several provisions of the measure. One of the most notable differences is the requirement that users prove that the marijuana in their possession was obtained legally. It also removes provisions restricting the sale of accessories by legal cannabis retailers.
The bill also allows advertising of cannabis on billboards. The directive also stipulates that all advertising placed on billboards or elsewhere must identify the parties responsible for the content and must not be aimed at minors.
Among other things, the replacement law would ensure that indigenous governments participate in the new industry and would allow small businesses that receive so-called micro-business permits to begin operations earlier than large companies to give them a head start.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two House bills is that HB 12 deals with social and racial spending. According to the proponents, this is non-negotiable.
I can’t stress this enough, Martinez said Saturday. Racial equality must not be set aside.
The public spoke both for and against the bills, although most stakeholders favored legalization in general. Many stressed the importance of racial equity in HB 12, while others argued that the money should instead go to state and local governments, as in HB 17. Concerns were also expressed about the lack of an upper limit on cultivation licenses in HB 12 and that the market could be flooded with legal marijuana. Others feared that the home cultivation permit provided for in the bill would encourage illegal sales and put children at risk.
It seemed possible that the committee would vote on the bills on Saturday, but lawmakers ran out of time after questioning Representative Stéphanie Lord (right), who questioned colleagues and industry witnesses on a range of issues, including gun rights, youth access, water rights and equal access to licenses. Many of these issues have been raised in previous legislative debates on legalization.
After Mr Armstrong’s questions, which lasted almost 30 minutes, the chairman of the committee said: It is clear that we will not be addressing and voting on all the points today.
This gentleman apologized for taking up so much of the committee’s time. I just thought my questions were really important to let the audience know what it’s all about, she said.
On the Senate side, three separate legalization bills – SB 363, SB 13 and SB 288 – are currently pending before the Senate Committee on Taxation, Commerce and Transportation.
SB 363 is similar to HB 12, while SB 13 is a companion bill to the more limited House bill, HB 17. Meanwhile, SB 288 is a separate proposal from Republican Senator Cliff R. Pirtle. This would prevent cannabis vendors from being located within a one-kilometre radius of each other and prevent the illegal cultivation of locally grown vegetables.
Each of the five bills has the same legal title, the Cannabis Control Act.
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It is not yet known when the Senate measure will be considered or, if multiple bills with different provisions are passed, how lawmakers will resolve those differences.
In an interview with the Santa Fe Reporter, Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto (D) said Senate lawmakers will be following the House hearing on Saturday to see how the House progresses. He went on to say that we will have a conversation between all the sponsors to see if we can align everything and determine which structure will be coordinated.
Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth (D) told the Growing Forward podcast that he plans to coordinate the Senate’s work to develop a unified proposal.
During Saturday’s hearing, lawmakers pointed out that most of the bills are identical and indicated that discussions will continue on the details.
I think in the sausage industry these bills will eventually merge into one hybrid, said Congressman Roger Montoya (D), noting that he likes the provisions of the various bills.
Mr. Montoya also said he would like to see an amendment to eliminate fines and fees for minors caught with marijuana. Montoya sponsors HB 183, a separate measure to eliminate fines and fees for certain crimes committed by minors, and has stated that the two House bills on marijuana would conflict with this measure.
The sponsors of the bills have said they are willing to work with Montoya to ensure the bills are not controversial, but they could not discuss the details of the amendments until after the hearing and plan to address the issue before Monday’s hearing.
For her part, the initiator of HB 17, Lujan, said that a collaborative approach is needed to bring everything together to put our state on the right track.
Legalization is supported by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), who has put the issue on her agenda for the 2021 legislative session and has repeatedly praised its potential to boost New Mexico’s economy, especially in light of the pandemic.
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 said in her State of the State address last month. That, of course, includes recreational cannabis and the tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in new revenue that will bring to our state.
MEP Andrea Romero (D) joined them at Saturday’s hearing. The reason why [legalization] is so important this year, she said, and why it’s so important to move New Mexico forward, is because we’re on the economic side of what happened after VIDOC.
Last year, Lujan Grisham sponsored a bill to legalize cannabis use by adults that was approved by a New Mexico Senate committee and only rejected by another. In 2019, after the House passed a marijuana bill to create a statewide cannabis sales system that ultimately failed in the Senate, the governor created a task force to study legalization and make recommendations.
The chances of legalization are increasing this year, as a number of anti-legalization Democrats, including the Senate President and Finance Committee Chairman, were ousted by progressive opponents in last year’s primaries.
New Mexico is increasingly surrounded by legal cannabis markets. It borders Colorado, the first U.S. state to legalize the commercial sale of marijuana, and also Arizona, where retail sales began last month.
We know that legalization of cannabis use by adults is imminent, Martinez said at Saturday’s hearing. It’s not a question of when. And I don’t just mean here in New Mexico, I mean across the country.
Cannabis should also be legalized across the southern border in Mexico, where state lawmakers are facing a Supreme Court order to overturn marijuana prohibition by April.
Polls show New Mexico voters are ready for a different policy. 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.
A bill to legalize marijuana in Minnesota will be debated for the first time next week.
Photo courtesy of Kimberly Lawson.
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