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Bipartisan backing for marijuana legalization

SANTA FE – For years, most New Mexico Republicans have steadfastly opposed proposals to legalize recreational marijuana use.

But with an increasing number of states moving toward cannabis legalization, three Senate Republicans have teamed up with three Democratic colleagues on a bipartisan bill, filed Thursday, that would allow for the sale of marijuana through state-run stores.

“Marijuana is not coming – it’s here,” said Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, one of bill’s sponsors. “What is worrisome to us is if we don’t try to get ahead of it.”

Under the terms of Senate Bill 577, a state agency – called the Cannabis Control Commission – would be created to oversee marijuana production, sales and product standards.

Businesses would be allowed to maintain a drug-free workplace, and a 17 percent tax rate would be levied on retail marijuana sales.

The state, cities, and counties would all get a cut of that revenue, with some of it earmarked for training law enforcement officers on how to detect drugged driving. Other revenue would go toward substance abuse and mental health programs.

Another one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, said he’s been mulling over marijuana-related legislation for several years.

“I believe and have believed for several years that it’s inevitable we are going to have legalized recreational marijuana,” Brandt told the Journal.

He said the bill’s idea of using state-run stores is based on how Utah and New Hampshire handle liquor sales.

The model, which would not allow for private dispensaries, would give the state more ability to ensure edible marijuana products do not end up in the hands of children, Brandt said.

That’s an issue that flared up in neighboring Colorado, which in 2012 became the first state to legalize recreational cannabis.

Meanwhile, the bipartisan bill introduced Thursday is one of several cannabis-related proposals up for debate during the ongoing 60-day session.

A Democratic-backed House bill that would impose taxes of up to 19 percent on recreational marijuana sales while also expunging criminal records on marijuana arrests and convictions has already cleared one committee.

Both that bill and the Senate bill filed Thursday would leave intact the state’s medical marijuana program, which has about 70,000 patients.

In addition to Moores and Brandt, others who have signed on to the just-filed bill include Sens. Jacob Candelaria and Gerald Ortiz y Pino, both Albuquerque Democrats, and Republican Sen. Cliff Pirtle of Roswell.

Brandt, a two-term senator who said he has never tried smoking marijuana, said he believes legalized recreational cannabis use will be coming to New Mexico soon.

“I just feel like it’s going to happen, whether we like it or not,” he told the Journal.

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