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Racial equity should be part of recreational cannabis law

Among the many urgent issues that the N.M. Legislature will be addressing in the upcoming legislative session, economic diversification will be one of our top priorities. The most recent market fallout in the oil and gas industry is a stark reminder of how volatile the industry is, and it’s a call to action to expeditiously diversify and ensure that NM’s businesses and economy are dynamic and no longer at the mercy of global oil markets.

One new industry that has the heft to jolt NM’s economy in very positive and productive ways is the recreational cannabis industry. Economists have projected more than 11,000 new jobs, $300 million in annual sales, and $50 million in new revenue to the state budget would be generated in the first year alone. The recreational cannabis industry can play a major role in rebuilding NM’s economy in ways that benefit every corner of the state.

But it’s not all about the money.

New Mexico has the opportunity to legalize cannabis the right way, correcting the many wrongs of the failed War on Drugs which for more than 50 years has disproportionately hurt communities of color through mass incarceration, family separation, joblessness, drug addiction and poverty. In the upcoming legislative session, we have the opportunity to legalize cannabis with these foundational principles.

The War on Drugs, which dates back to Jim Crow policies of the 1940s and 1950s, has been among the most shortsighted, ineffective and dangerous federal policies implemented. It has been politicized and used to target communities of color and has been applied disproportionately for decades, resulting in mass criminalization of people of color. With an equitable cannabis legalization policy that leads with racial justice, we can do our part to undo some of the worst legacy impacts of the failed War on Drugs.

These policies – which we consider mandatory to any cannabis legislation introduced – include:

⋄ Allowing individuals with prior cannabis convictions to work in the new cannabis industry and to apply and receive a license.

⋄ Requiring a social and economic plan to encourage diversity in licensing.

⋄ Providing protections so that nobody is denied public benefits or health care based on cannabis use or a positive cannabis drug test or barred from licensure or employment of any kind because of prior cannabis convictions.

⋄ Investing funds generated by cannabis back into communities most harmed by inequitable enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws.

⋄ Providing financial assistance to low-income patients who use medical cannabis.

In addition, we can also create incentives and opportunities for homegrown New Mexico entrepreneurs to compete fairly against a new crop of multinational cannabis companies. Just a few months ago, Northern Community College in El Rito announced its plan to start a new Cannabis Tech and Industry program on its El Rito Campus Branch Community College.

Recent statewide polling has shown that 72% of New Mexicans favor cannabis legislation if they contain these types of equity provisions. New Mexicans are ready. We are sick and tired of the War on Drugs. We all want to see our state diversify our economy, create new industries and offer jobs and small business opportunities so our young people stay in New Mexico and not leave for greener pastures. These equity provisions will make New Mexico a national leader in legalizing cannabis the right way.

New Mexico’s cannabis legalization policy must ensure equity and diversity while reinvesting in the communities that were the hardest hit by cannabis criminalization. I encourage you to learn more about how we can legalize cannabis and not repeat the mistakes created by the War on Drugs.

We can be national leaders if we legalize cannabis the right way. The time is now, New Mexico.

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