Friday, February 26 turned out to be one of the more significant days of the 2021 New Mexico legislature. Action was taken on 3 major issues:
Repeal of 1969 law criminalizing abortion signed by the Governor
Cannabis Regulation Act passes the House
Pandemic relief package enacted
REPEAL OF 1969 ABORTION BAN
On Friday, February 26, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill repealing the 1969 abortion ban. The 1969 law criminalized abortion to end a woman’s pregnancy except in certain circumstances, such as rape and incest. The 1969 state statute has not enforced been in the state due to the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v Wade in the 1970s, which legalized abortion nationwide.
The repeal of the 1969 law was necessitated by the fact the repeated attempts have been made over the years to have the United States Supreme Court reverse the decision of Roe v Wade. With the appointment of 3 very conservative supreme justices over the last 4 years, the reversal of Roe v. Wade is becoming more and more likely by the Supreme Court, in which case New Mexico’s 1969 law would again become law in the state.
In a statement, Governor Lujan Grisham had this to say:
“A woman has the right to make decisions about her own body. Anyone who seeks to violate bodily integrity, or to criminalize womanhood, is in the business of dehumanization. New Mexico is not in that business – not anymore. Our state statutes now reflect this inviolable recognition of humanity and dignity. I am incredibly grateful to the tireless advocates and legislators who fought through relentless misinformation and fear-mongering to make this day a reality. Equality for all, equal justice and equal treatment – that’s the standard. And I’m proud to lead a state that today moved one step closer to that standard.”
REPEAL CRITICIZED AND DEFENDED
Republican State Senator Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte, said the bill’s passage was not a win for women, but for abortion providers and said:
“With the stroke of her pen, the governor has weakened standards of care for women, stripped conscience protections for medical professionals and given the abortion industry unchecked power to operate under the radar in our state. ”
Supporters of the repeal pushed back hard on the claim arguing other medical conscience protections in state and federal law will remain in place. In addition, advocates for the repeal of the 1969 law criminalizing abortion was statute of a highly sexist era.
RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA BILL PASSES HOUSE
On Friday, February 26, House Bill 12 entitled the “Cannabis Regulation Act” passed the New Mexico house in a 39-31 vote. HB 12 legalizes and regulates the use, production, and sale of cannabis and cannabis products for adults 21 years and older. The bill would allow New Mexicans to grow up to 6 mature cannabis plants. Smoking in public would be strictly prohibited. The bill will allow retail stores to offer space for consumption. Under the proposal, employers generally could not discipline an employee for cannabis use outside the workplace, but employers could take disciplinary action, including termination, against someone who used marijuana, possessed it or was impaired at work.
TAXATION AND REVENUES
HB 12 imposes an 8% state excise tax on sales at cannabis retailers. Cities and counties could impose additional taxes of up to 4%. The combined maximum tax rate in New Mexico could reach 21.4%. According to a press release from House Democrats, economic projections indicate that recreational cannabis sales in New Mexico could total as much as $318 million in the first year alone and will create over 11,000 new jobs. Estimated tax revenue is projected to be $28.6 million in the first year, stabilizing at $50 million annually. It could generate about $44 million in new tax revenue for the state government and $24 million for local governments a year by 2024. Recreational sales could begin as soon as January 1, 2022.
Representative Javier Martinez, a sponsor of the bill, had this to say about the low variation in tax:
“That’s important for two reasons. Number one, we want to make sure that we nurture this brand-new industry that we hope and expect will create thousands of jobs across the state, but number two, we also want to make sure that we undercut the illicit market.”
During the first committee hearing on HB 12, Republican Representative Luis Terrazas objected to the legalization legislation citing a study that showed traffic deaths increased in Colorado after legalizing marijuana and had this to say:
“One of the articles I read was that traffic deaths were up 75 percent a year.”
The legislature over many years has repeatedly tried and failed to pass similar bills, but those efforts have been blocked repeatedly more the more conservative legislators in both parties. In 2019, a recreational use of marijuana passed in the house but didn’t make it out of a Senate committee.
Governor Lujan Grisham supports the legalization of recreation use of marijuana and has said she would sign the legislation and said:
“I’m optimistic. Again, there’s a lot of stuff going on, and I’ve seen cannabis fail because it’s complicated. … But I’m seeing the right movement in both the House and the Senate in these debates, and I’m confident they’re going to meet our expectations about safety, etc. plant count, and get me something upstairs that I can sign. I’m feeling pretty good about it.”
The “Cannabis Regulation Act” will now goes to the New Mexico Senate for further committee hearings. This year, the passage of the legislation by the Senate is considered the best it has been in years.
PANDEMIC RELIEF MEASURE
On Friday, February 26, Governor Lujan Grisham signed into law House Bill 11 the long-anticipated pandemic relief measure. It authorizes $200 million in small business loans. Qualifying businesses that have no more than 75 employees will be able to secure up to $100,000 in funding. A separate pandemic recovery bill providing $600 rebates to low-income workers and enacting a four-month tax holiday for restaurants and breweries is also on its way to Lujan Grisham’s desk for final approval after being approved Wednesday by the House. Thus far, the 2021 New Mexico Legislature have enacted bills authorizing upwards of $400 million in state spending on pandemic relief measures.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The passage and signing of the repeal of the 1969 archaic abortion ban as well as the improved chances of the passage of the legalization of recreational use of marijuana are no easy feats nor a mere change of heart by a few legislators. As the saying goes “elections have consequences”. Two years after voting down a bill that would have repealed the long-dormant New Mexico abortion ban, the New Mexico State Senate voted 25-17 to repeal the 1969 abortion law making abortions illegal. The 2020 NM general election resulted in the defeat of 5 long serving, conservative Democrat Senators who for years voted with Republicans to form a “conservative coalition” that stymied more progressive legislation sent to the Senate by the New Mexico House. The same conservative coalition in both the House and Senate have insured the failure of legalization of recreational use of marijuana as well.
The 60-day 2021 legislative session ends on March 20. There are still a significant number of issues that the New Mexico legislature will be dealing with over the next few weeks remaining of the session. Those include the Senate having to approve the legalization of recreational marijuana, the “red flag” law dealing with the ability for law enforcement to temporarily seize guns by court order from those who are a threat to themselves or others and comprehensive “liquor license reform” and legislation dealing with police reform.