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First cannabis legalization bills filed at Roundhouse

New Mexico could become the 16th state to legalize recreational cannabis under bills pending at the Roundhouse. The state already has a medical cannabis program, as reflected in this December 2020 file photo of cannabis clippings at an R. Greenleaf & Associates facility in Southeast Albuquerque. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Two bills seeking to add New Mexico to the ranks of Western states that have legalized recreational cannabis for adult users were introduced in the state Senate on Monday, and additional proposals could be filed in the coming days.

The two proposals filed Monday offer different road maps for marijuana legalization, which backers say is likely to happen this year after last year’s election cycle led to shake-ups in the Legislature.

One of the two measures, Senate Bill 288, filed by Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, would require at least a one-mile buffer between licensed cannabis dispensaries.

It would also impose a 2% excise tax on top of local gross receipts taxes, while funneling much of the generated revenue into the coffers of cities and counties.

A new state agency, the Cannabis Control Commission, would be created to regulate marijuana production, manage distribution and protect employers’ authority to impose drug-free workplace policies.

“Legalization is coming, and as a state, we must get ahead of the issue and pass legislation that does not harm our communities,” Pirtle said in a statement.

In contrast, the other bill filed Monday, Senate Bill 13, would put oversight control for legalization duties within the Regulation and Licensing Department, an existing state agency.

It would set a 20% sales tax on retail sales of recreational cannabis, which would then be exempt from the gross receipts tax.

The state would get 65% of the revenue generated by the bill, which is backed by the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, with local governments receiving the rest.

Unlike other cannabis legalization bills introduced in recent years, the revenue would not be earmarked for any specific state programs, meaning it would be up to lawmakers and the governor to decide how to spend it.

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, the measure’s sponsor, said his focus is on freeing up law enforcement agencies to focus on violent crime – not cannabis enforcement – and responding to prevailing public sentiment in favor of cannabis legalization, not on generating a new revenue stream for the state.

“I am optimistic and hopeful there’s sufficient bipartisan will to get a responsible adult use bill this year,” Ivey-Soto said in a Monday interview.

New Mexico already has a marijuana decriminalization law on its books, as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham last year signed into law a bill that made possession of up to a half-ounce of cannabis a civil offense punishable with a $50 fine.

But the governor and other supporters say legalization is still necessary, arguing it would generate tax dollars that could be used on public safety programs.

Currently, 15 states have legalized recreational cannabis sales to adult users, or are in the process of doing so. Arizona and three other states approved legalization referendums last year.

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