New Mexico’s Competing Marijuana Reform Bills

The New Mexico state government is awash in proposed legislation to legalize adult recreational marijuana use in the state. Two proposals to establish regulated adult marijuana sales were introduced to the State Senate on Monday February 1, 2021. A third framework for setting up regulated marijuana production, sale and consumption was filed in the New Mexico State House on the same day.

Reporters from the Santa Fe New Mexican have described the two measures in the senate as “competing bills” due to the proposed cannabis legalization originating on opposite sides of the political aisle.

Senate Bill 13 (see what he did there?) comes from Albuquerque’s Democratic Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto. Republican Senator Cliff Pirtle, representing Roswell, introduced Senate Bill 288.

Capitalism is sold as a system in which competition benefits the consumer. When the competition is between opposing views on how to capitalize on legalizing cannabis at a state level for medical and recreational use, it’s a hint for the medical marijuana consumer should become a buyer who bewares.

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What’s the Motive Behind New Mexico’s Dueling Cannabis Bills?

Emily Kaltenbach, senior director, resident states and New Mexico at the Drug Policy Alliance, is wary of monetary gain as the motivation for Senate Bills 13 and 288.

“We should not legalize just to stand up a new industry,” insists Kaltenbach to the Santa Fe New Mexican. “We need to legalize to right the harm of cannabis prohibition and the harm that this has done to our communities in New Mexico.”

The Drug Policy Alliance is a national advocacy organization campaigning for “a just society in which the use and regulation of drugs are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.”

The so-called competition between the two senators’ marijuana advocacy can be interpreted as disagreements of how to best apply the profit motive to the reform of New Mexico’s cannabis prohibition.

Though maintaining that the intentions of Senate Bill 13 transcend revenue generation, Democratic Senator Ivey-Soto admits, “If there’s some tax dollars that flow in as a result, so be it. We’ll accept those and put those to good use.”

Ivey-Soto, from Albuquerque, concedes that the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, an organization of businessmen whose mission is to maximize legal cannabis profits, had “a lot of influence” on Senate Bill 13. The Democratic senator proposes a recreational marijuana tax rate of 21 percent, with revenues split in even thirds among cities, counties and the state.

The proposed marijuana tax bite from Republican Senator Cliff Pirtle’s Senate Bill 288 is lower than Ivey-Soto’s, ranging between 13 and 15 percent. Revenues would split 4 percent each to cities and counties, with the state scooping up the larger share.

Pirtle maintains that, “If you get your tax rate too high, it causes the cannabis to be too expensive and allows for the black market cannabis industry to thrive.”

The Republican reasons that his lower proposed marijuana tax rates reflects his commitment to eliminating New Mexico’s black market cannabis industry.

Democrat Ivey-Soto told the Santa Fe New Mexican that his Senate Bill 13, “is about freeing up law enforcement to do their job with regard to them being able to focus on more violent crimes and … for us to free up the court system and for adults who choose to engage in the responsible use of cannabis to be able to do so without having to fear some kind of legal retribution at the state level.”

Democrat Ivey-Soto and Republican Pirtle are unified in refusing to openly prioritize a profit motive in commercializing New Mexico’s cannabis consumption. Coincidently, since 2019, New Mexico has been openly seeking to diversify its economy and rely less on “volatile” oil and gas revenue.

Cannabis Laws

New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis History

In 1978, with passage of the Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Act, New Mexico became the first state in the country to permit the medical use of some forms of cannabis. This limited marijuana decriminalization was mostly confined to treating nausea, pain, and other symptoms stemming from cancer.

Only around 250 cancer patients received state supplied medicinal cannabis or THC between 1978 and 1986.

With 2007’s SB 523, New Mexico’s medical marijuana program expanded access to doctor recommended patients dealing with 28 qualifying medical conditions. Known as the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, SB 523 established a statewide Medical Cannabis Program under supervision of the New Mexico Department of Health.

The National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) puts the current number of registered New Mexico medical cannabis patients at 98,507. Cardholders are entitled to eight ounces of medical cannabis purchased from state licensed dispensaries over a 90-day period.

Where Will New Mexico’s Legal Cannabis Go From Here?

Both Democrat Ivey-Soto’s State Bill 13 and Republican Pirtle’s Senate Bill 288 envision New Mexico’s recreational marijuana system as a separate offshoot from the state’s medical marijuana program.

The Democrat’s Senate Bill 13 would create a Cannabis Regulatory Office within the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department to oversee the program.

The Republican’s Senate Bill 288 would create a whole new state agency, the Cannabis Control Commission, to oversee the program.

In a January 17, 2021, Santa Fe New Mexican op-ed titled “Legalizing Cannabis the Right Way Is Good for New Mexico,” Democratic State Representative Javier Martínez of Albuquerque stated that, “Economic diversification will be one of our top priorities.”

Martínez filed his recreational marijuana legalization bill in the State House on the same day Senate Bills 13 and 288 were introduced in the State Senate. Emily Kaltenbach of the Drug Policy Alliance praised Martínez’s bill for addressing the “comprehensive social justice and equity provisions that are necessary to right the wrongs of the failed war on drugs.”

What Is the Best Case Scenario for New Mexico’s Cannabis Legalization?

Whether built on a Republican or Democrat framework, the Drug Policy Alliance’s Kaltenbach believes that New Mexico’s adult use marijuana regulations must meet at least four conditions:

  1. People who have prior marijuana convictions must be entitled to work and be licensed in the cannabis industry.
  2. People who have prior convictions must have those convictions automatically expunged.
  3. A portion of tax revenue must be reinvested into communities that have been harmed by failed prohibition policies.
  4. Children must be protected against being removed from their families based on the sole reason of cannabis use.

Speaking for the entire political spectrum, Senator Pirtle claims that the legalization of recreational marijuana in New Mexico is an issue that inspires bipartisan support.

Drug Policy Alliance research documents bear out Senator Pirtle’s vision of consensus, calculating that nearly 75 percent of New Mexicans (94 percent of Democrats, 93 percent of Independents and 46 percent of Republicans) are in favor of cannabis legalization, including provisions to ensure tax revenue is reinvested into communities.

The numbers indicate that New Mexicans will secure adult use cannabis legalization in their state. The question is what quality of equitable legalization will they gain.

Written by
Allan MacDonell
Allan MacDonell

Allan MacDonell’s work has been featured in publications ranging from Dazed and Confused UK to the New York Times and Washington Post. He is the author of Prisoner of X, Punk Elegies and Now That I Am Gone, and was a founding editorial director at online outlets including Buzznet, TakePart and Kindland. MacDonell views teaming with Leafwell as an opportunity to encourage the emerging role of legal cannabis as a highly effective medical treatment.

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