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Tierna Unruh-Enos is the managing editor and associate publisher at The Paper.

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After a marathon 60-day session, a five-day break, and a 36-hour special session, New Mexico’s legislators passed adult-use cannabis legislation. House Bill 2, sponsored by Rep. Javier Martínez (D-Albuquerque), Rep. Andrea Romero (D-Albuquerque) and three other legislators, sped through multiple committee hearings and Senate and House floor debates in less than two days. The rushed effort was part of the special legislative session called by Governor Lujan Grisham.

Lujan Grisham, in a statement on Wednesday, praised the bill’s sponsors and called the passage of legalization a “breakthrough.” Rep. Javier Martinez calls it “an exciting win for social and economic justice in New Mexico.”

The Paper. spoke with Martinez just after the bill’s passage about the hard work it took to get a bill passed that included social justice and was economically beneficial to everyone.

The Paper.: What are the major differences between the bill you introduced during the 60-day session, and HB 2, which passed the special session?

Rep. Javier Martinez: Substantively, there’s not a lot of difference. We separated the expungement of cannabis convictions as one social justice component and passed it as a separate bill, because it’s really a judicial process issue. We compromised with the Senate on managing plant counts, or the number of plants companies can grow. Within three years, though, it will move to a market-driven system.

How did you work across the aisle to get the bill passed?

A great deal of credit goes to the leadership of the House, Sheryl Williams-Stapleton (D-Albuquerque) and Speaker of the House Brian Egolf (D-Santa Fe), and to the leadership in the Senate, working with Sen. Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque) and Sen. Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe). We tried to figure out a path to work with legislators from both sides. We reached across the aisle, but unfortunately, there wasn’t any desire for genuine cooperation from many of our Republican legislators. We took some aspects of the GOP bill sponsored by Sen. Cliff Pirtle (R-Roswell) and incorporated them. In retrospect, there wasn’t any desire to work together from the GOP side. I feel like that was a missed opportunity. We as sponsors were hoping to come together with a compromise. It’s an issue that crosses political lines, particularly with younger people. 

How important was including a social justice component to this bill?

A lot of noise was made by opponents of the bill that the social justice component had to be pulled out. Legalization without that framework isn’t worth it. We’ve built an economic system in this country on the backs of Brown and Black people, and here we are on the cusp of a new industry, and we were not going to make the same mistake again. The bill was drafted and developed through the lens of racial and economic justice. It’s inseparable and was non-negotiable. The new licensing scheme is an easy path into the industry, which is racial and economic justice. We require the regulators who oversee the licensing process that they encourage diversity in production and licensing.

We don’t automatically bar people with prior convictions related to cannabis from entering the industry. The advisory committee overseeing this will have a big impact on the process, and it must be geographically and socially equitable. 

How does HB 2 allow New Mexican companies to take advantage of the licensing process before outside investments come rolling into the state?

Currently, medical producers based in the state can apply for a producer’s license or a micro business license in September of this year. All other licenses, including manufacturing and retail can be applied for no later than Jan. 2022. Retail sales will begin by April of 2022 in the state. If an outside entity comes in, rules and regulations ensure diversity, both geographically and racially, in the application process. Regulators have to have a process in place that helps New Mexicans first. New Mexicans will not be left out. A lot of faith is going to be placed on state regulators. If it needs to be tweaked, we’ll do it in the Legislature.

Economically, how important is the passage of this bill to New Mexico?

It’s an important piece of the puzzle. I’ve never made the claim that this solves our problems, as we transition from being an economy completely reliant on oil and gas. Renewables like wind and solar are one important piece as well. I’m excited about the 11,000 jobs we believe this will bring, but I’m more excited that we can create an economy that is diverse and an economy that will benefit from something conceived through a racial and economic lens. We believe there will be hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue to be generated by this bill, and that’s very exciting for our state.

Why is 2021 the year the Legislature finally passed a cannabis legalization bill?

The biggest change this year is twofold: There is a different composition of the Senate and the House, and we owe a great deal to grassroots organizations that led the way toward shaking up the makeup of the Legislature.

I also think the House of Representatives is coming into its own now. I’ve been there for six years, and in my first term we were the minority. And now we’re the majority. We bring together coalitions across party lines and geographic lines.

I think more people were engaged in the session this year. We were open and transparent, and we just got word that more than 19,000 unique users logged on to the Zoom meetings to participate in the 60-day session and the special session combined. It creates an environment where good legislation gets created. HB 2 came from that process. Once the bill got to the Senate floor, it was unstoppable.

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