SANTA FE, N.Mex — New Mexico’s Legislature has approved the legalization of recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older in a bill that the governor plans to sign, extending the legal cannabis market across the American Southwest.
The state House concurred with Senate amendments Wednesday to provide the Legislature’s final approval. A companion bill would automatically erase some past marijuana convictions and reconsider criminal sentences for about 100 prisoners.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called a special legislation this week to push for legalization of marijuana in efforts to spur employment and a stable new source of state income.
She is expected to sign a package of bills that provide a regulatory framework for recreational marijuana sales, expungement procedures and $6 million in initial state spending on oversight and enforcement.
New Mexico is poised to join 16 states that have legalized marijuana, mostly through direct ballot initiatives. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a legalization bill Wednesday, and a proposal in Virginia is awaiting the governor's signature.
New Mexico flirted with cannabis legalization in the 1990s, when then-Gov. Gary Johnson challenged taboos against decriminalization in defiance of Republican allies. A medical marijuana program founded in 2007 has attracted more than 100,000 patients.
The Democrat-dominated Legislature has been reticent to legalize until now. Several hardline opponents of legalization in the state Senate were voted out of office by Democrats in 2020 primary elections, in a shift that paved the way for Wednesday’s historic vote.
Under the advancing legalization package, New Mexico would levy an initial excise tax on recreational marijuana sales of 12% that eventually rises to 18%. That’s on top of current gross receipts on sales that range from roughly 5% to 9%.
Possession of up to 2 ounces (57 grams) of marijuana would cease to be a crime, and people would be allowed six plants at home — or up to 12 per household.
The reforms would eliminate taxes on the sales of medical marijuana and seek to ensure adequate medicinal supplies.
“The United States of America is in the midst of a sea change when it comes to this,” said Democratic state Rep. Javier Martinez of Albuquerque, who has ushered legalization bills four times to House endorsements. “This bill begins to repair the harms of prohibition.”
State oversight would largely fall to the governor-appointed superintendent of the Regulation and Licensing Department that would issue licenses for a fee to marijuana-related businesses. The agency initially would have the authority to limit marijuana production levels by major producers — a lever over market supplies and pricing.
The bill would create a cannabis control division to oversee 10 types of industry licenses. Those include micro-licenses with low annual fees for small producers to grow up to 200 marijuana plants and also package and sell their products.
Bill sponsor Martinez says that provides an important measure of equity, within a bill designed to support communities that suffered from criminalization of marijuana and tough policing.
Past drug convictions don’t automatically disqualify applicants for marijuana business licenses. The odor of marijuana or suspicion of possession are no longer legal grounds to stop, detain or search people.
Recreational sales would begin in April 2022.
Legalization bill co-sponsor Rep. Deborah Armstrong says New Mexico will respond to early pitfalls of legalization in other states as it mandates child-proof packaging for marijuana products.
Lawmakers discarded a Republican-sponsored bill from Sen. Cliff Pirtle of Roswell that emphasized low taxes in an effort to stamp out illicit weed and would have provided low-cost licenses to small pot farmers by linking fees to the number of plants in cultivation.
Local governments cannot prohibit pot businesses but can regulate locations and hours of operation, under the Senate-endorsed bill. Bill sponsors say that sheriffs and police want consistency from town-to-town on rules and enforcement.
Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.