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New Mexico Cannabis Legalization Passes Crucial House Vote

March 8, 2019
A legalization bill didn't get far in 2019, but supporters have high hopes for passage in early 2020. (thecutewanderer/iStock)
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico took a step toward legalizing adult-use marijuana when its House approved a bill that would allow state-run stores and require customers to carry a receipt with their cannabis or face penalties.

The measure, narrowly approved Thursday following a late-night debate, mixes major provisions of a Republican-backed Senate bill that emphasizes aggressive regulation with a draft by Democrats concerned about the U.S. war on drugs.


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The 36-34 vote sends the bill to the Democratic-controlled Senate for consideration.

Under the House-approved bill, recreational cannabis stores would open for business in July 2020.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has expressed guarded support for recreational marijuana legislation that addresses concerns about child access, road safety and safeguarding the state’s existing marijuana market for medical patients.

Under the House-approved bill, recreational cannabis stores would open for business in July 2020.

Rep. Javier Martinez, a Democrat, described the bill as a “grand bargain” with a group of Senate Republicans who favored use of state-run stores, in part to prevent the proliferation of pot shops on city streets in a phenomenon dubbed the “green mile.”


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The proposed system mimics established state-run liquor stores in many areas of the U.S.

Martinez praised the bill as a way to take more marijuana profits from drug cartels and money launderers.

“You can face criminal charges if you don’t have a receipt or other proof of purchase on your person to accompany your cannabis for personal use,” said Martinez, describing that provision as a difficult concession to Senate Republicans.

All House Republicans and 10 Democrats voted against the bill.

“I don’t like this direction,” said GOP Rep. Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences. “My choice would be that we give people really active and productive lives and healthy families.”

Ten states and the District of Columbia allow recreational marijuana.


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New Mexico could become the second state after Vermont to approve it by legislation rather than a ballot initiative. A bill to legalize recreational cannabis in Democrat-dominated Hawaii fizzled last week.

In New Mexico, possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by people 21 and older would be considered legal with a receipt. Home-grown cannabis was ruled out of the proposal because it could be a source for the black market.

Private dispensaries would be allowed where there is no state-run marijuana store within 25 miles. Oversight of the industry would be shared by state agriculture, health and environmental officials.

The bill would repeal criminal laws governing cannabis offenses and expunge and destroy criminal conviction records. It eliminates taxes on medical marijuana to help ensure sufficient supplies to patients.

Taxes of up to 17 percent would be levied on recreational marijuana sales. Some tax revenues would be set aside to collect statistics on marijuana use and road safety, efforts to discourage child consumption and research on the public health effects of legalization.


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Prospects are uncertain for approval by the state Senate, where conservative Democrats occupy key leadership and committee posts.

“You can give them all the facts in the world, and they just won’t touch it,” said Democratic Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, describing the staunch opposition by several Democratic colleagues. “It is strong, emotional.”

The prospect of legalization has opened a public rift in the state GOP, with party chairman and former congressman Steve Pearce ridiculing the idea of “state employees selling pot.”

GOP Sen. Cliff Pirtle, a dairy farmer in his early 30s from Roswell, in a staunchly Republican district, has cast recreational marijuana as a source of economic opportunity as well as “liberty and freedom for responsible adults.”

State-run stores would ensure small commercial marijuana producers get shelf space to compete, he said, adding that main streets in small towns are not transformed by the sight of storefront marijuana shops.

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  • Jason Barker

    What Bad Cannabis Policy Looks Like: The Cannabis Regulation Act in New Mexico

    The bill for recreational cannabis in New Mexico cleared the House chamber in a narrow 36-34 vote late Thursday night, but not before being significantly amended from its original form. The Cannabis Regulation Acts (HB-356/SB-577) being merged is bad policy for medical cannabis and is bad policy for New Mexico – As Medical Cannabis Patients and Caregivers we DO NOT want this bill to pass.

    If recreational cannabis legalization passes will it jeopardize the implementation or even final passage of the Medical Cannabis in Schools bill, SB-204?
    We have seen entire counties in New Mexico declare themselves a 2nd amendment sanctuary counties to oppose bills passed in the roundhouse; Will counties now try to do this cannabis and prohibit cannabis use all together like a dry county?

    Not to mention the number of lawsuits this legalization bill will open the state up to and would not be the least bit surprised if one of the current medical cannabis producer or the patients community would challenge the bill with a lawsuit if it does pass the Legislature.

    Drug Policy Alliance and New Mexico Lawmakers are playing with fire when it comes to recreational cannabis policy and it’s all of us medical cannabis patients who will get burnt if this bill passes into law.

    It was amazing hear how easily the lies just poured out Democratic Representative Javier Martinez’s mouth, in letting the debate surrounding legalization of cannabis for recreational use obscure the science and policy regarding the medical use of cannabis as he read from his Drug Policy Alliance script.

    “New Mexicans are with us on this issue,” Martinez said in floor remarks prior to the vote, referring to polling data showing that a majority of the state’s voters support legalizing cannabis. No, No we are not with you at all and we have all emailing and calling telling lawmakers this bad policy and these Democratic lawmakers are ignoring those pleas from their constituents.

    Rep. Maestas said that the state-run stores in the compromise bill might be the “most responsible way” for regulating cannabis sales that has yet been tried in the U.S. The reality is how this will be a system leading to an extensive black market of cannabis sales across the state as people will not utilize the proposed regulated system.

    “Prohibition does not work,” Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, an Albuquerque Democrat and co-sponsor, told his colleagues. “Let’s put the cartels out of business.” This bill is a socialist approach to cannabis regulation and just another form of Prohibition.

    Under the compromise approved by the House, recreational cannabis stores would be run by a new state regulatory commission. In areas where there isn’t a government-run retail operation within 25 miles, private sellers could be licensed. Manufacturers would be privately licensed and heavily regulated.

    Notably, the amended bill also requires that recreational consumers maintain a receipt of sale for cannabis they possess. Those found without the receipts could face criminal charges, Martinez said when describing the changes.
    What? It’s not legalization if you can be arrested for possessing cannabis. And if you possess to much quantity of concentrates of cannabis products you are arrested and charges as a felon. The initially proposed legal possession limit of two ounces was lowered to one ounce and if you have more you get arrested again.

    And, unlike the original House legislation, the new version does not allow for home cultivation of recreational cannabis. And by banning home growing, this will result in anybody and everybody deciding to do their own home grow despite the law.

    What? Is the state going to go around every day at sun rise and start checking every house and doing home inspections to enforce this foolish aspect of the proposed law?
    They can say not to do but everyone who wants to will – as this already goes in New Mexico with many things. Look at the gun control measures being passed in New Mexico and how members of law enforcement are saying some of those are unenforceable.

    This is what happens when lawmakers who know nothing about the cannabis plant or cannabis legislative policy write a legalization bill – all at the “expertise” of Drug Policy Alliance. The House Chamber voted and passed a bill that was given to them to read and review only 45 minutes before the vote.

    Misguided and Reckless Priorities Advanced Recreational Cannabis Legislation in New Mexico’s Roundhouse.

    “As governor, I will work to legalize recreational cannabis in a way that protects medical cannabis patients’ access, prioritizes public safety, and generates state revenues.”

    Legislators and Drug Policy Alliance at the Roundhouse have failed to Protect the Medical Cannabis Program, like Governor Lujan Grisham said had to be done before a recreational cannabis legalization bill would get signed. Will the Governor stay true to her word or will she just sign anything for legalization they put on her desk?

    And still the fact remains that everything proposed in the Cannabis Regulation Acts by Drug Policy Alliance can be achieved by taking a true path to harm reduction by passing cannabis decriminalization and by expanding our current Medical Cannabis Program.

    We know the best outcomes for medical cannabis patients come when they have a seat at the table to discuss strategy, priorities, and policy and that did not happen with any of the current medical cannabis bills or recreational cannabis bills this year in the legislature. How much money was it the medical cannabis producers donated to help elect Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham? Will she now sign a bill with state run dispensaries taking away their future business opportunity which could result in medical cannabis producers shutting down…