In the midst of widespread support among New Mexico’s Senate legislators on the need for a regulated and taxed market for adult-use marijuana, various proposals are vying for support with just three weeks to go before the final bill will be sent to Governor Grisham. Among these competing proposals, state senators must decide how much government oversight the state is willing to administer on issues of taxes, production licenses, and consumption amounts.
As a Senate panel tackled these issues last Saturday in their efforts to legalize cannabis, they also debated not only how they could create a competitive market with increasing job growth, but also how the state might prevent illegal marijuana markets as well as prohibit child access. The senators hope to deliver a bill that encompasses broad support amongst the panel by the end of the week.
“I’m really delighted to see the effort to consolidate the good points from all these bills into something we can pass,” stated Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino of Albuquerque. Further adding,
“What we would like is for this to be recognized for what it is, something that adults can use responsibly, keep it out of the hands of kids, and there are provisions in these bills that do that and make sure that in the future this industry can really flourish.”
After voters forced many hardline opponents to legalization out of their Democratic leadership positions in the state Senate last year, this debate became especially momentous for proponents of the legislation.
Oversight Differences Among the Legislature Remain
While a bill proposed by Democratic House Rep. Javier Martinez of Albuquerque was approved by the state House on Friday, some Democrats are still split on what the state’s overall approach to legalization should look like. Long standing issues that were addressed through the legislation were the need to emphasize social justice reforms such as subsidized medical cannabis for the poor as well as a combined tax rate of almost 20% on retail sales.
Proposals to extend tight restrictions that resemble the oversight existing under the current medical cannabis program in New Mexico were rejected due to their limits on the number of production licenses on quantity of pot grown. The major criticism of this oversight noted that medical cannabis is more expensive in New Mexico compared to the neighboring states of Colorado and Arizona. Subsequently, lawmakers warned against marijuana business license holders being able to monopolize the market, in effect creating a legal cartel.
As Democratic Rep. Andrea Romero of Santa Fe, a co-sponsor of the House-approved proposal explained, “Our bill provides for a robust opportunity in an equitable way”. She went on to say, “Reducing the harm that comes from the criminalization of cannabis is seen throughout our bill”.
A proposal put forth by Democratic state Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Alburquerque closely mirrors this initiative by providing for state and local excise taxes on recreational marijuana, lifting barriers on cultivation and planning to open up new niches for small-scale craft marijuana outlets, resorts with permitted cannabis consumption areas, and businesses that cater to home-grow hobbyists.
Sen. Candelaria advised his colleagues in the Senate to resist caps on supply and the amount of production licenses permitted. He further encouraged lawmakers to take an even broader step in the cannabis legalization legislation process by including provisions that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of other illicit drugs.
Republican Sen. Cliff Pirtle of Roswell advanced a differing proposal that would shift conversation towards emphasis on highway and workforce safety as well as eradicating illicit markets through respectively low taxes. Sen. Pirtle’s proposal would include a 4% excise tax rate combined with current gross receipts taxes on sales and business transactions.
According to Sen Pirtle, “The first goal when legalizing cannabis, I believe, is to put the illicit market out of business.” His proposal also includes the creation of a cannabis control commission with collaboration from state and local law enforcement that would help protect businesses. “We 100% protect our employers’ right to a zero-tolerance, drug-free workplace,” Pirtle stated.
Sen. Pirtle along with other Republican lawmakers from communities bordering Texas reiterated their constituents’ fears of a potential proliferation of weed shops that cater to cannabis tourism popping up on main streets in small communities. To alleviate those fears, Pirtle proposed a 1-mile buffer between marijuana retailers in his version of the bill.
Since New Mexico’s constitution does not provide for a ballot initiative to legalize pot in the state, the legislature is fully in charge of the legalization process and related issues of law enforcement and taxation.
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