Saturday, September 30, 2023

Five Cannabis Bills Under Consideration

Recreation Is Not a Matter of If, But When


The scent of cannabis is wafting through the Legislature again this year.

Five bills pushing for the legal use of recreational marijuana have already been introduced as the 60-day session nears the midpoint.

On Saturday, the House Health and Human Services Committee vetted two bills sponsored by Democrats that would legalize cannabis for those 21 and over. The other three bills are coming out of the Senate. 

Advocates say such initiatives are inevitable. 

"The legalization of adult use cannabis is coming," said Rep. Javier Martínez, an Albuquerque Democrat and a co-sponsor of House Bill 12. "It’s not a matter of if — it’s a matter of when."

Rep. Tara Lujan, a Santa Fe Democrat and co-sponsor of the rival House Bill 17, agrees. "We need to grow and go for New Mexico," she said.

Though the representatives said during the committee hearing Saturday that their bills have a lot in common — both would legalize the production and use of cannabis, with limits, and both would set up a regulatory division to oversee licensure qualifications and procedures — there are still differences to iron out.

Among them: HB 17 calls for a production cap on cannabis, but HB 12 does not. HB 12 includes a provision creating contracts with tribal leaders to ensure they are part of the program, but HB 17 does not.

HB 17 does not earmark new revenues toward specific programs, distributing it instead to counties and municipalities. HB 12 does earmark some of the money, including toward education, treatment and to communities hit hardest by drug use.

Both are estimated to raise between $50 million and $100 million a year in new revenue for New Mexico — one reason state lawmakers are increasingly supportive of the initiative. And supporters say the new cannabis industry — if legalized — will create thousands of jobs. 

Few members of the public seemed to oppose the bills, though some brought up issues about addiction, adults being under the influence parenting their children and a potential for increased vehicular accidents if cannabis became legal.

Some said it's important to cap production so individuals don't flood the market with cannabis.

But most people who spoke during the hearing voiced support for one or both bills, saying the time has come to permit the cultivation and use of cannabis. 

A similar effort to legalize cannabis in the 2020 regular session stalled in part because conservative Democrats joined with Republicans in the Senate in opposing the measure. 

But several of those Democrats have since left the Legislature, making the proposed legislation more likely to succeed this year. 

For now, lawmakers are trying to get the legislation through the House of Representatives. 

To that end, Rep. Deborah Armstrong, an Albuquerque Democrat, chairwoman of the committee and a co-sponsor of HB 12, along with Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, moved to carry on the debate during Monday's committee meeting. As a result, the committee took no action on the two bills. 

It's possible, she said, the committee may vote Monday to move one, both or a mix of the two on to the House Taxation and Revenue Committee.

Lujan and Rep. Roger Montoya, D-Velarde, said they are willing to work with the HB 12 sponsors to come up with a compromise bill. But following Saturday's session, Martínez said he feels HB 12 has "a very clear path forward in the House."


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