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Joshua Lee is a news and science reporter. He has been one of the leading cannabis reporters in New Mexico for the last five years, and his work has appeared in Weekly Alibi, Right Where You Are Sitting Now and the Disinformation Company.

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Recent News

This year has been unlike any encountered by those of us currently taking up residence on this little globe. Was it “unprecedented” for the human race at large? Hardly. But for those of us here on the ground, it was stranger than anything we could have imagined.

What’s especially strange is the overnight change in cultural attitudes toward cannabis use. During an Evangelicals For Trump event for the presidential campaign, right-wing pastor Paula White-Cain criticized President-elect Joe Biden for his history of supporting harsher criminal penalties for marijuana offenders. It was an incredible moment of high weirdness in a year that will go down as one of the weirdest.

During a press conference back in July, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi publicly suggested that cannabis could help treat symptoms associated with COVID-19 to defend Democrats’ inclusion of cannabis banking provisions in their failed version of the coronavirus relief bill. “This is a therapy that has proven successful,” she told the nation.

It appears that a cultural shift weighted toward the acceptance of cannabis is underway, and New Mexico has been sliding along with the rest of the country. Here are some of the year’s top stories, in case you missed them:

Legalization Bill Dies in Committee

The most recent attempt at legalizing recreational marijuana for adults over 21 in New Mexico was the most successful in a long line of failures.

While it made it past the House, it was left to die by the Senate Judiciary Committee thanks to the help of some conservative Democrats.

Although it came as a blow, the bill received some criticism, especially for its attempt to establish a state-run cannabis industry that kept out private interests.

Lujan Grisham Backs Legalization

Even though the legalization bill failed to become law, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s support for legalization became even more pronounced. The governor created the legalization working group that made the recommendations that eventually informed the bill, and she made it very clear that she was disappointed in its fate.

Following the pandemic Lujan Grisham was sure to repeatedly remind state legislators that tax revenues collected from a legal cannabis industry would have gone a long way in helping to offset the state’s financial losses brought on by COVID-19.

Dispensaries Deemed “Essential”

If one thing has been proven this year, it’s that marijuana is a COVID-safe industry. While businesses are failing across the country at alarming rates, cannabis producers are making money hand over fist.

One reason for this is that every state in the country that has some form of legal cannabis labeled their dispensaries as “essential businesses,” including New Mexico. The decision was seen as controversial in some areas of the nation, but here in New Mexico there wasn’t too much of a stir.

Of course studies have shown that cannabis can curb cytokine storms—believed to be one of the leading causes of death for victims of COVID-19. So maybe folks understood that dispensaries really are essential.

Legal Battles Over Reciprocity Rules

In a mind-numbingly confusing back-and-forth that ultimately failed to keep the interest of the public back in 2019, out-of-state patients were allowed to enroll in the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program—then were not allowed—then were—and so on. Much of the problems surrounded the implementation of new reciprocity rules that would allow patients enrolled in other states’ medical marijuana programs to purchase cannabis while visiting New Mexico.

The courtroom battles continued to rage this year as licensed producer Ultra Health challenged the Department of Health, claiming its rules were too constrictive and blocked viable out-of-state patients from participating in the program. A judge ruled against the DOH and ordered that the emergency rules be thrown out. The agency has appealed the decision.

Illegal Hemp Farms On Tribal Lands

Navajo Nation leaders were involved in a months-long battle with illegal hemp farmers that ultimately culminated in a 30-ton bust coordinated between tribal authorities and federal agents.

Navajo leaders were forced to redefine the meaning of “marijuana” under tribal law to halt the large-scale black market cannabis operations being run on tribal land. After creating a legal path to shut down the farms, Navajo police, state police and FBI agents joined forces and were able to make the bust.

According to an investigative report by Searchlight New Mexico, along with large amounts of illegal marijuana, authorities found scores of Chinese immigrant workers who were reportedly unaware of the illegality of the operation.

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