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Governor’s pot legalization group discusses ads, taxes

Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis, right, leader of the Governor’s Working Group on Cannabis Legalization, gives a presentation Wednesday to mayors, police chiefs and other city officials during a conference in Las Cruces. (Angela Kocherga/Albuquerque Journal)

LAS CRUCES – Advertising, local control and tax dollars generated by sales of recreational marijuana were issues discussed by members of the Governor’s Working Group on Cannabis Legalization during a visit to southern New Mexico.

The group held its third meeting in Las Cruces, and made a presentation at the New Mexico Municipal League’s annual conference before mayors, police chiefs and other city official from across the state.

“This is a question of when, not if, in New Mexico,” Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis, the leader of the group, told members of the municipal league Wednesday during the organization’s conference at the Las Cruces Convention Center.

Davis encouraged local governments to get involved in shaping legislation, including whether they want a provision to opt in or out in allowing recreational marijuana sales. “The alternative will be voters will force us to do this,” Davis said. He also touted the extra tax dollars generated from retail marijuana sales at both state and local levels, and the more than 11,000 new jobs he said would be created “overnight.” Some of the tax money would fund law enforcement and training to certify officers to detect drugged driving, according to Davis.

During the presentation, a group of law enforcement officers, including police chiefs, stood in a row in the back of the large room listening intently. Afterward, Clovis Police Chief Doug Ford said he was worried about creating another “impairment problem” with more people using marijuana. “You’re stretching our resources,” Ford said.

New Mexico State University Police Chief Stephen Lopez said he wanted more details about the plan for colleges and universities, where many students are under 21. “They didn’t focus on what’s going to happen around universities, whether around universities is going to be a no-sale area,” Lopez said.

Columbus Mayor Esequiel Salas said he thought legalization “could work,” but had reservations on how it would be implemented statewide. “It’s not a neat little box, especially down by the border. We are different,” Salas said. Southern New Mexico includes miles of remote borderland that are part of a drug-smuggling corridor. While supporters say legalization will encourage people to buy from regulated sources, critics say black market pot is also an issue.

During their working meeting at Las Cruces city hall, group members tackled the issues of advertising and local control. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham created the 20-member working group in July to study how other states have legalized cannabis. Eleven states have allowed recreational marijuana use.

The 15 members who attended the meeting agreed the legislation should follow other state bans on television, radio and billboard advertising for recreational marijuana.

Les Rubin, finance director of Picuris Pueblo, expressed concern about advertising and billboards just across the state line in Texas. “El Paso will be a massive market for recreation,” said Rubin. “I know this is about our legislation, but can our producers advertise in another state?”

Texas is the only border state that does not have a medical cannabis program and recreational marijuana use is illegal. “We’re very much concerned with being a good neighbor down here,” said Doña Ana County Sheriff Kim Stewart.

She was also among several members who expressed concerns about allowing some cities or counties to opt out of retail sales of recreational marijuana, creating a hodge-podge of regulations. “From a law enforcement perspective, if it’s state allowed, it should be statewide,” Stewart said. The working group did not vote on local control recommendation during the Las Cruces meeting to study a “hybrid” plan that would allow for state regulation of recreational marijuana sales, with local input on zoning and other issues.