Recreational Cannabis Bill Passes New Mexico House

Rep. Javier Martinez

By ROBERT NOTT
Santa Fe New Mexican

In a race to legalize recreational cannabis before the legislative session ends, House Bill 12 has taken a wide lead.

The New Mexico House of Representatives voted 39-31 in favor of the bill, which would allow anyone 21 and over to use cannabis products and grow small amounts for personal use or apply for a license to grow and sell it — with no production limit.

The bill heads to the Senate for consideration.

HB 12 is one of five cannabis legalization measures introduced in the Legislature. So far, it is the only one that has reached a chamber floor. Another House bill stalled in a committee, and three Senate measures are scheduled for their first committee hearings Saturday.

Rep. Javier Martinez D-Albuquerque, one of the sponsors of HB 12, said the legislation creates “a brand-new multimillion dollar industry. It is a big deal — and it should be.”

If the bill becomes law, there would be no criminal penalties for possession of up to 2 ounces of cannabis, and people could store a larger amount at their homes. They also could grow up to 12 plants — six mature, six immature — for personal use, but could not sell the substance without a license.

Initial estimates from Martinez and other supporters said tax revenue raised by cannabis sales would reach at least $50 million. However, the bill’s fiscal impact report — citing a number of costs associated with implementing the program — puts that figure closer to $15 million for the state and another $8 million or more for counties.

“I’m not exactly sure we’re gonna see any big boom,” said Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington. He noted many New Mexicans live in poverty, and some might spend money on cannabis instead of something else they would normally buy. 

Montoya and Rep. Randall Crowder, R-Clovis, introduced amendments that would have allowed county governments to prohibit cannabis sales within their boundaries, as some counties have done in the past with alcohol. But the amendments failed to gain traction after Martinez said they could cause problems for local law enforcement agencies, among other issues. House members voted to reject the amendments.

Friday’s vote on the bill did not fall strictly along party lines. Six Democrats and Phelps Anderson, a former Republican who recently switched the party affiliation on his voter registration to “decline to state”, joined the 24 Republicans in the House in opposing the measure.

The nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance released a statement Friday lauding the passage of what it called a “social justice-focused cannabis legalization bill”.

Under HB 12, about a third of the tax revenue generated by cannabis sales would fund issues related to substance, help communities impacted most by drug use and provide cannabis abstinence education for children and teens.  

Martinez said criminalizing the use of cannabis unfairly impacts people of color, who often are caught up in the criminal justice system for using the drug.

A 2020 study by the American Civil Liberties Union found Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession.

Democratic state lawmakers have been working for several years to pass a cannabis legalization initiative as the state’s Medical Cannabis Program has continued to grow, with about 100,000 patients enrolled. Similar legalization efforts are growing nationwide, even as it remains a crime under federal law to possess or use marijuana.

Arizona residents recently voted to approve marijuana legalization. Colorado legalized marijuana use nearly a decade ago.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, has voiced her support for cannabis legalization and backed an unsuccessful effort last year. Legalization efforts in 2019 and 2015 also went nowhere.

Under HB 12, the law would take effect in January 2022, which is when the state could begin issuing annual licenses for commercial production and sales.

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