Support for adult use cannabis legalization in New Mexico is strong. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has championed it for years. Lawmakers have advanced legislation, and the state’s residents want it. But, so far, nothing has come even close to the finish line.
This year, lawmakers are trying again. But whether adult use legalization becomes a reality depends on compromise when it comes to the details. Lawmakers, in both chambers, have introduced five bills with key differences. While the three bills in the Senate have yet to be debated, the House has already narrowed its focus. On Monday, the House Health and Human Services Committee advanced HB 12, voting 7-4, while tabling HB 17. HB 12 now heads to the House Taxation and Revenue Committee.
HB 12, introduced by Rep. Javier Martínez, is more focused on equity than HB 17. Broadly, HB 12 would allow for home cultivation, would automatically expunge certain past cannabis convictions, and would direct more than half of the cannabis excise tax revenue to low-income medical cannabis patients and to a “community grants reinvestment fund.” HB 17, on the other hand, does not allow for home grows or automatic expungement, and directs cannabis tax revenues to localities, as well as to low-income medical cannabis patients.
In a conversation with Cannabis Wire prior to the introduction of his bill, Martínez noted that the legislature has become less conservative in recent years, adding, “I believe the path toward legalization has opened up more so than ever before.”
The one hurdle at the top of his mind is simply time, he said, due to the “part-time” nature of the state legislature, which is a citizen legislature. “Time is always a problem for big bills like this one,” he said. “There’s a lot to get through. There are a lot of concepts to grasp, particularly for legislators who might be from more rural communities, or maybe they’re a lot older, you know, different generations.”
The House bills were first discussed on February 13, during a House Health and Human Services Committee meeting, though the Committee didn’t vote until February 15.
During the first discussion, proponents of HB 17 emphasized that the bill didn’t include too many earmarks or other details in an effort to allow it to move forward more quickly. Ben Lewinger, the executive director of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, for example, referred to it as a “minimum viable product” that “leaves important details to a fully empowered rule making process.”
Before the Committee moved to public comment, Martínez responded quickly to emphasize that the bills are similar, except for the “social and racial equity components.”
“I cannot stress this enough. Racial equity cannot be by the wayside. There’s no indication from any legislator on the House or Senate side that it is the racial equity component of this bill that is killing it or that has killed it in the past,” he said, noting that he felt that it was due to conservative lawmakers who have since left. “To sacrifice key components of equity for the sake of having a bill that is slightly more streamlined—I mean, it’s a few pages shorter—I think it’s a little disingenuous.”
Much of the discussion Monday, ahead of the vote to advance Martínez’s bill, focused on youth use and other public health and safety concerns.