Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – A closely watched Roundhouse debate over legalizing recreational cannabis for adults began Saturday with a clash over proposed personal production limits.
Members of a House committee heard more than three hours of public testimony and debate over two proposed legalization bills that, while similar in many regards, would set different rules when it comes to home-growing marijuana.
One of the two bills, House Bill 12, would allow New Mexicans to grow up to six mature cannabis plants, while also setting other personal use limits. It would impose no limit on how many plants licensed producers could grow.
But some argued Saturday that could lead to overproduction of cannabis, which has occurred in some states that have legalized cannabis.
“We cannot flood the market with unlimited supply and allow new entrants (to the industry) to survive,” said Rachael Speegle, the head of Verdes Foundation, which operates medical cannabis dispensaries in Albuquerque and Rio Rancho.
The other bill debated on Saturday, House Bill 17, would impose penalties for personal production of more than three mature cannabis plants.
That approach also faced criticism, with Chad Lozano, a medical cannabis patient advocate, describing it as overly rigid.
“Making it a crime doesn’t make sense,” Lozano said. “We’re trying to legalize it here.”
The two measures debated by the House Health and Human Services are among the five cannabis legalization bills that have been filed during the 60-day legislative session, which ends March 20.
The committee did not vote on either bill Saturday. It plans to resume its debate Monday.
Several lawmakers suggested that the bills – along with other cannabis legalization measures – could end up being fused into a single measure to avoid the possibility of competing bills jockeying for passage during the session’s final days.
Rep. Roger Montoya, D-Velarde, said he plans to propose amendments to both measures aimed at penalties for underage cannabis possession and consumption.
“I believe that in the sausage-making the bills will merge into a hybrid at some point,” Montoya said.
Nationwide, 15 states have legalized recreational cannabis sales to adult users, or are doing so. Arizona and three other states approved legalization referendums last year.
But Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, the sponsor of House Bill 12, pointed out that just two states – Illinois and Vermont – have legalized cannabis legislatively.
While Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and some lawmakers have touted the job creation and revenue potential that legalizing recreational cannabis might provide, Martinez said social justice concerns are at the forefront of his yearslong push for legalization.
“We know that the war on drugs has been an utter failure,” Martinez said, citing his upbringing in both Albuquerque and Ciudad Juárez.
The two bills scrutinized Saturday would also take a different approach to taxing cannabis sales for adult users.
House Bill 12 would set a 9% excise tax for cannabis sales, with cities and counties able to enact local excise taxes that could raise the total tax rate to a maximum of 16%.
House Bill 17, by contrast, would impose a 20% gross receipts tax rate on legal marijuana sales. The state would get 65% of the total amount generated, with local governments receiving the remaining 35% of the new revenue.