Gov. Lujan Grisham creates cannabis legalization task force

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Friday announced the creation of a state working group on legalization recreational marijuana use. (Julio Cortez/Associated Press)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Recent attempts to legalize recreational marijuana use in New Mexico have come up short at the Roundhouse, but Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is laying the groundwork for a legalization bill to make it to her desk in 2020.

The first-term Democratic governor on Friday announced the creation of a Cannabis Legalization Working Group, a task force of at least 19 state lawmakers, Cabinet secretaries, law enforcement officials and medical marijuana executives that will study other states’ experiences with legalizing cannabis use.

The group, which will be led by Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis, has also been tasked with making recommendations to the governor that will be incorporated into proposed legislation.

“I want New Mexico’s introduction and management of recreational cannabis to be the envy of the country,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “We can and will incorporate lessons learned from other states so that New Mexico provides for a well-regulated industry that, crucially, does not infringe on or harm our expanding medical cannabis program, upon which so many New Mexicans rely.”

The working group is planning to hold its first meeting July 10 in Santa Fe and will likely hold public meetings monthly, Davis said. Some private working groups may also be held.

Davis also said he’s hopeful the working group will have the framework of a proposed bill ready to go by late November, which would give time for interim legislative committees to review it before the 2020 legislative session starts in January.

“We have a short timeline, and there are some big buckets of issues,” Davis told the Journal, adding that state legislation crafted in recent years could be used as a starting point by the working group.

Eleven states have legalized recreational cannabis. The latest to do so was Illinois, where Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law this week a bill that will take effect next year.

Lujan Grisham said on the campaign trail last year that she supports legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults but that it must be done in a way that addresses workplace intoxication and driving under the influence, keeps it away from children and meets other requirements.

She also suggested that revenue generated by legalizing recreational marijuana use and taxing its sales could be used at least in part to bolster New Mexico’s mental health treatment system.

However, winning approval of a marijuana legalization measure at the state Capitol has proved to be a difficult task.

Although the state Democratic Party adopted a party platform last year that supports the legalization of recreational marijuana use statewide, some Democratic lawmakers have remained opposed to legalization.

“Just because it’s in the platform doesn’t mean all the Democrats in the state support it,” Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, said last year.

Most Republicans have also expressed opposition to legalizing marijuana, though three GOP senators worked with Democratic colleagues during this year’s 60-day session on a bill that would have legalized recreational cannabis through state-run stores.

That bipartisan proposal narrowly won House approval but stalled in the Senate. It was the first time a recreational marijuana bill passed a chamber of the state Legislature.

Lujan Grisham then said just minutes after the Legislature adjourned on March 21 that she would add the issue of legalizing recreational marijuana use to the agenda of next year’s 30-day session.

Lawmakers did approve a separate proposal during this year’s session that – starting Monday – will reduce penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The state also has a medical marijuana program with more than 70,000 enrolled members.

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