Nearly two years ago, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham formed a cannabis legalization work group, tasked with researching how other states were faring with legalizing recreational marijuana.
At the time, she said she wanted New Mexico to have a legal cannabis program that would be the "envy" of the country.
Her idea gained momentum, but efforts to legalize cannabis failed in last year's legislative session.
This year, leading lawmakers said they were confident it would happen this time around. But with less than two weeks left in the 60-day legislative session, legislators have not quite come to an agreement on which cannabis bill is worth betting on.
On Feb. 27, members of the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee asked the sponsors of four competing measures — House Bill 12 and Senate Bills 13, 288 and 363 — to get together and come up with a compromise bill.
Committee members said that was the best approach because time is short. But not so short that it can't be done, some legislators say.
Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, a Santa Fe Democrat who serves on the tax and business committee, said Friday he is "confident" the sponsors will reach a compromise by Tuesday.
"It's time for them to compromise and see if they can put together a bill that can get through. … If that happens, the votes are there on the Senate floor to make it pass," Wirth said.
Some involved in the process remain tight-lipped on negotiations. "I'm hopeful," Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, an Albuquerque Democrat who is sponsoring SB 13, said Friday.
Sen. Cliff Pirtle, a Roswell Republican who is sponsoring SB 288, said the sponsors have been discussing the various proposals for the past week. "Hopefully, we can come up with something that works for everybody. … We're working on it," Pirtle said.
He added: "We'll see what happens in the committee."
Sen. Jacob Candelaria, an Albuquerque Democrat who is sponsoring SB 363, sounded a more confident tone as he talked about working with Rep. Javier Martínez, also an Albuquerque Democrat and co-sponsor of HB 12, on a compromise bill.
Candelaria and Martínez think their proposal is not only the most sound, but the one that has the best chance to make it to the governor's desk for a signature.
The reason is simple, they say. If the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee chooses a fresh Senate bill to run with on Tuesday, that legislation then has to go to the Senate Judiciary Committee and then to the Senate floor.
And then it must move to the House of Representatives — and maybe first through a House committee before it hits the House floor for a final vote.
That will be a lot of miles for a bill to cover with just 12 days left in the session come Tuesday.
If the tax committee backs HB 12, with Senate amendments, it can move through the Senate side much quicker, Martínez and Candelaria said. "It’s simpler to go with one bill procedurally," Martínez said Friday. "It's a lot easier to make changes to our bill than it is to start a new one. If you substitute House Bill 12 with a new one, you have to go back to the other side."
Candelaria said he is willing to make amendments to the House bill that include some of his bill's proposals. He said he will ask the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee to table at least one of the other Senate bills on Tuesday.
Perhaps it won't be that difficult to come to terms. Some advocates and analysts say the four bills have a lot in common.
All four bills would legalize the possession of up to 2 ounces of recreational cannabis or 16 ounces of cannabis extract for adults 21 and older. All would allow New Mexicans to apply for a license to grow and sell cannabis. And all would set up a regulatory commission to oversee the program, including issuing and setting fees for licenses.
All of the bills would impose an excise tax, though that tax rate ranges from 6 percent to 20 percent, depending on the bill.
Other differences are more stark. SB 13 would impose a yet-undecided cap on production, but the other three bills have no cap.
SB 288 allows local governments to prohibit sales in their counties and municipalities, while the others have no such provision in place. SB 228 also has a clause separating cannabis shops by at least a mile so downtown New Mexico doesn't look like a long block of pot shops. The other bills have no such mandate.
Other differences revolve around what sort of advisory committee would oversee the program, who would serve on that committee and where the revenue raised from the cannabis tax would go.
The fiscal impact reports for all of the bills estimate some 11,000 jobs would be created if New Mexico adopts a recreational cannabis law. The reports estimate annual revenue to be in the $12 million to $15 million range the first year, though an analyst told the committee that number could be closer to $25 million.
"I believe this bill will move forward," Candelaria said of HB 12.
But for all his confidence, he added, "I'm always worried about time at this point in the game."
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