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Pot task force recommends licensing system

A medical cannabis plant with a purple color at the Ultra Health growing facility, photographed in 2015. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico would regulate privately run marijuana stores that sell to recreational users – rather than operate the stores itself as an arm of state government – under a package of recommendations crafted Tuesday by a task force.

The proposal marks a shift from legislation that advanced through the state House last session, when Democratic lawmakers embraced the idea of state-run cannabis shops as a part of a compromise with Republicans.

The concept, however, didn’t pick up support Tuesday from a task force established by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The group – headed by Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis – is examining the regulatory options for legalizing recreational marijuana in New Mexico.

In a meeting at Albuquerque City Hall, the members endorsed the idea of a traditional licensing system for private companies that would grow and sell marijuana – similar to what’s already in place for the medical cannabis program. The state, in other words, wouldn’t operate the stores.

The task force also recommended against allowing local governments to ban marijuana sales entirely within their jurisdictions. Cities and counties, however, would still be permitted to impose zoning restrictions and similar regulations for cannabis retail stores.

Davis, a former police officer, said that allowing local “opt-outs” could complicate policing efforts – a challenge discussed in earlier task force meetings.

Law enforcement officials “were concerned about the need for uniformity,” Davis said.

Some states that have legalized marijuana – such as Colorado and Michigan – allow local communities to opt out of sales.

The task force is planning to wrap up its work with a meeting later this month. Key remaining questions include how to handle prohibitions on driving under the influence and roadside testing for marijuana intoxication.

It isn’t clear, of course, whether lawmakers will agree in the next session to legalize recreational marijuana.

The bipartisan proposal to allow cannabis sales at state-run shops narrowly cleared the state House earlier this year, but stalled in the Senate.

Democrats hold majorities in both chambers, but influential members of the Senate have opposed previous efforts to legalize marijuana.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who took office this year, has thrown her support behind the idea and plans to add marijuana legalization to the agenda for next year’s legislative session.

She has stressed repeatedly, however, that a new law authorizing recreational marijuana must not interfere with the state’s medical cannabis program, must address driving while under the influence and must protect workplace safety.

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