After New Mexico’s governor predicted that legalization of cannabis is a priority for some lawmakers this year, a Democratic state senator has proposed a bill that would regulate adult use. SB 115 will be reviewed for the first time by a legislative committee on Tuesday.
The initiative would make it mandatory for recreational dispensaries to supply state-subsidized medical marijuana to patients. The plan looks to learn from the experiences of cannabis legislation in other states like Oregon, where medical marijuana has become scarce when recreational becomes legal.
This is far from the first indication that New Mexican lawmakers are looking to push a legalization agenda this year. Earlier this month, the state’s Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham commented at a Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce luncheon that regulation of adult use cannabis could prove to be “an economic game-changer.”
“If we are clear-eyed about the risks, we have to be clear-eyed about the opportunity,” said Grisham — a nod to the bipartisan policy makers in the state’s legislature that are unconvinced that access to marijuana is without its health risks. Last June, Grisham established a group to explore the feasibility of cannabis regulation.
Albuquerque Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino introduced the legislation, which would establish an automatic expungement process for individuals with past cannabis-related criminal convictions.
It would require local governments to allow for recreational industry activity — a measure that is presented as a way of fighting against illegal market cannabis sales. That language was taken from recommendations published by the governor’s task force earlier this month.
Marijuana in New Mexico
Last year, New Mexican lawmakers were also presented with a draft of legalization legislation. Though it passed the House, it was unable to clear the Senate. Both chambers are controlled by Democrats in New Mexico, but cannabis legalization is not an issue that cleaves cleanly to party lines in the state. Some prominent Democrat elected officials have expressed their doubts regarding cannabis legalization, while some Republicans have thrown their support behind plans to regulate the drug.
The state’s medical marijuana program saw a considerable expansion last year of the number of qualifying conditions. Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel signed off on the addition of opioid dependency as a new entry to medical cannabis treatment. New Mexico has consistently seen higher than average rates of opioid abuse among its population.
Last July, a New Mexico decriminalization law took effect that reduced the maximum sentence for possession of less than a half ounce of cannabis from 15 days in jail to a $50 fee, for an individual’s first such offence. Subsequent offenses can still garner incarceration, however.
It seems as though lawmakers efforts to widen access to cannabis have the support of the New Mexican population. A December poll of slightly over 1000 voters suggests that support for recreational cannabis legalization in the state may be hovering at around 75 percent. New Mexico was the 12th state to legalize medicinal cannabis — could it hold the same honor when it comes to regulating adult use weed?