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Shanon Jaramillo is the founder and CEO of SeedCrest, a cannabis-focused higher education and workforce development company. She was appointed by Governor Lujan Grisham to the governor's 2020 legalization working group.

"Jobs Help Wanted" by Innov8social is licensed under CC BY 2.0

For years, we have spent millions of dollars trying to stop the illicit market, to limit marijuana consumption, to shut down its growth potential. To this day federal cannabis laws continue to criminalize and ruin the lives of the people in disproportionately impacted communities. Seems ironic now to say that cannabis can save us from the economic crisis, like the one we now find ourselves in, in New Mexico.

Legalizing cannabis should be New Mexico’s top priority in order to provide a clear-cut pathway for small business recovery and job opportunity to those out of work.

While the people of Colorado, Washington and California have profits pouring in, the past year’s pandemic has left our state’s budget in disarray, unemployment at an all time high, and many small businesses have vanished before our eyes.  

Over the past two years we have seen Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham endorse strategies for our state that include more cannabis commerce and job growth for our people. It is time to ask legislators to consider what they would need to pass Legalization responsibly rather than to let another year pass, drowning in the dogmas of the past.

It is true that New Mexico was in a budget crisis even before COVID-19 made it to the United States and wreaked havoc on our people and our local budgets. The state’s budget shortfall added up to a whopping $4.5 billion according to Truth in Accounting’s annual Financial State of the States report, which ranked us at 31st among the 50 states in terms of fiscal health and gave us a grade of D for our level of debt and deficit. 

The truth is, New Mexico is among the states with the most jobs lost throughout this pandemic and the resulting crisis, second only to Kansas. The state has recommended that local governments and state agencies cut their budgets by 5 percent through this year as the COVID-induced shortfall continues. This means fewer public services will be provided to all of us at a time when more are desperately needed.

Legalization seems to be the most solid solution to New Mexico’s projected billion-dollar shortfall in 2022 and our current rising unemployment epidemic. It is also an affirmed revenue generator that many states are using to combat their budgetary problems and to create new jobs.

It is past time that our legislature takes the not-so-bold step to legalize adult-use cannabis. An open retail cannabis market should be considered a top priority strategy to pulling New Mexico out of budgetary and a job loss hole that we find ourselves in now. More cannabis business opportunities mean a more solid stream of jobs for our people—and let’s face it; we have a lot of people that need to re-enter the job market in our state.

How do we know this will work? Many other states are ahead of us in tapping into this “new” revenue source. “New” because legalization would create the means to grow private businesses and capture revenue, now lost to the illicit marketplaces that are already in every town across our state.

Since the inception of California’s recreational cannabis industry in January 2018, the tax program has generated $1.8 Billion in revenue. The industry accounts for almost 40,000 jobs in the state—many of which are unionized and come with good pay and benefits. In Colorado, cannabis accounted for over $300 million of tax revenue in 2019 and almost 35,000 jobs. Crime has not gone up and neither have drug addiction rates. Jobs and revenue, however, have.

We should legalize cannabis, not only to make up for lost revenue and lost business, but also to begin to make up for our mistakes and missteps, for the wrongs of the past and for the systems of injustice that have been built on faulty presumptions.

We cannot afford to continue to operate off fear and old rhetoric, we must jump in trusting the process alongside other advancing states and countries who are seeing how to benefit from cannabis. Fresh perspectives and laws will allow us to address the systemic problems that have long plagued marginalized communities while offering jobs to people of all color and affiliation.

Shannon Jaramillo is the Founder of SeedCrest, LLC, formerly Cannabis NM Staffing.

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