An Albuquerque Journal poll revealed that 61% of adults surveyed said they support New Mexico becoming the 12th state in the nation to legalize recreational use of cannabis, while 33% said they oppose the idea. The remaining either had mixed feelings or declined to answer. “The biggest predictor on New Mexicans’ feelings about marijuana legalization was age, as those ages 18 to 49 were far more likely to support the idea than those ages 50 and older.” The poll was conducted from January 31 through February 4 and was a statewide sample of 515 New Mexico adults that is representative of the age, gender, race and geographical region of the state’s adult population and has a margin of error of 4%.
You can review the entire Albuquerque Journal article with analysis detailing the poll results here:
SENATE BILL 115
Senate Bill 115 (SB 115) is the legalization of recreational marijuana bill that is pending in the 2020 New Mexico 30 day legislature that is more than halfway over. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has endorsed the legislation and added it to the 30-day session agenda. The SB 115 passed the Senate Public Affairs Committee along party lines with all Democrats voting yes and all Republicans voting no.
Senate Bill 115 is 173-pages long and the legislation will legalize use and sale of recreational marijuana for anyone age 21 and older. The 2019 New Mexico Legislature decriminalized possession which is now a $50 civil fine with no jail time. The proposed legislation provides for taxes on recreational pot at roughly 17% to 19% and makes medical marijuana tax-free and entirely subsides medical marijuana for low income patients.
The legislation will regulate both commercial and medical marijuana programs. The legislation avoids a traditional licensing system as is created for full-service alcohol licenses. As written, the recreational cannabis legislation contains no limit on the number of recreational cannabis licenses. Under the proposed legislation, the holder of a recreational cannabis license issued will have no vested property right in the license and the license is deemed property of the state. A license issued pursuant to the Cannabis Regulation Act will not be transferable from person to person, corporation to corporation or corporation to person. The licenses shall not be leased and shall not be considered property subject to execution, attachment, a security transaction, liens, receivership or all other incidents of tangible personal property under the laws of this state.
A Cannabis Control Division of the Regulation and Licensing Division will be created and will have very broad and extensive authority to regulate the industry. The division will have powers to promulgate rules and regulations, including many mandates and limitations on license issuance and quality control. The Cannabis Control Division must be up and running by January 1, 2021, which is a very ambitious deadline given the magnitude of creating the industry.
Medical cannabis providers could sell to recreational users beginning January 1, 2021 if the Department of Health determines it won’t harm the supply for people in the medical program. Broader commercial sales would start a year later, in 2022. The plan calls for food-grade testing of marijuana products. The legislation if passed will require all cannabis products sold in New Mexico to be tested and free from contaminants. Packaging must be clearly labeled with the THC dosage. The legislation also includes restrictions on advertisements that target youth. The legislation requires investments in training that would assist law enforcement officers in identifying impaired driving and not just limited to only cannabis-induced impairment.
The legislation does give local governments some authority to determine where cannabis dispensaries can be located. However, the state’s counties will not be given any authority to be able to prohibit cannabis sales nor prohibit the licensing of stores. In other words, local zoning rules will be able to be used to control the number of stores in an area where they the stores can located. This is identical to zoning restrictions placed on retail stores that sell pornography.
The legalization bill calls for generally a 19% tax rate. Each county and city have varying gross receipts tax rates and the cannabis tax would be added to those sales taxes. The tax is much lower than in other states and it is hoped it will prevent buyers from turning to the black market. The legislation will exempt residents in the medical cannabis program from the tax and would require cannabis growers to serve the medical market before the recreational market.
On January 29, the Cannabis Regulation Act won a narrow victory in state Senate’s Public Affairs Committee making it through the committee on a 4-3 vote that was strictly along party lines, with the Democratic members voting “do pass” and the republicans voting “do not pass”. The 2020 New Mexico Legislative 30- day session is now at more than the halfway point and the cannabis legalization bill still needs to be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee and, if passed there, move to the Senate Finance Committee. The Senate is the more difficult task because Senate moderate to conservative Democrats are known to vote often with conservative Republicans and vote no on recreational use legislation. If passed by the Senate, it then must be referred to the House for even more committee hearing and a final House Vote.
MAJOR CONCERNS IDENTIFIED
There are many problem areas that have identified about the current legislation including the following:
If Senate Bill 115 passes in its current version, existing medical cannabis retailers can begin selling to recreational consumers. The problem is January 1, 2021 is the same day all the rules and regulations on implementation and issuance of licenses and regulating sales must be in place. Simply put, 10 months is not enough time to promulgate such rules and regulations.
Local governments can’t ban any category of license but can limit activity to one business in each category and set zoning requirements which will likely result in a court challenges by competing businesses.
Licenses can’t be denied solely because someone has done time for “possession, use, manufacture, distribution or dispensing or the possession with the intent to manufacture, distribute or dispense a controlled substance.”
Customers have to be 21, but servers can be 18, and that is in conflict with liquor control laws that require both customers and servers to be 21.
Recreational buyers will be able to buy more cannabis than medical patients. Current law limits medical users to 8 ounces every 90 days while recreational users will be able to buy 2 ounces every transaction. Such a system is likely to result in major shortages for medical users.
Under the law, there is no increase in the number of plants growers are allowed and there is a cap of 500 plants that will lead to shortages.
Recreational use will be totally legal. This bill includes automatic expungement of marijuana arrests and convictions, strikes marijuana from the substances banned from drug-free school zones and says use cannot affect parole or custody cases.
Black-market marijuana sales are not addressed in the bill. A Department of Justice report says state-level legalization gives criminal drug trafficking organizations the ability to undertake large grow operations.
Cannabis use, especially in chronic users, has been linked to schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, suicide, significant abnormalities in brain function and structure, and lower IQ. The fact that the State has some of the highest DWI rates and opioid addiction rates in the country clearly complicates the legalization of recreational cannabis and the existing bill does not address completely what or how those problems will be dealt with.
There is absolutely no mention of drug-free workplaces in the legislation, which is something the Governor’s cannabis task force said it was recommending changes.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
At this point in time, it is very likely that Senate Bill 115 will fail or not make it through both the New Mexico Senate and House during the 30-Day session. The poll showing that 61% support the legalization of recreational marijuana makes the strongest case yet why the New Mexico Legislature needs to put the issue of legalization on the November, 2020 ballot. If passed by voters, enabling legislation can be enacted in the 2021 legislative 60- day session that will begin in January, 2021 with Senate Bill 115 to be used as a good start for more refined legislation.
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