Down to the wire for cannabis legalization - Albuquerque Journal

Down to the wire for cannabis legalization

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The clock is ticking on this year’s push to legalize cannabis for adult users in New Mexico, but backers’ hopes are far from extinguished.

A Senate committee did not take action Saturday on any of the four marijuana legalization bills assigned to it, as had been previously scheduled, instead opting to hold off on the bills so a group of legislators working on a compromise proposal could have more time.

“I remain confident that a solution can be found,” Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said in a Saturday interview. “This is a very big issue with a lot of moving pieces.”

Wirth voiced support for using a legalization bill passed Feb. 26 by the House, which would authorize commercial sales to begin in January 2022, as the basis for a compromise.

In large part, that’s because the legislation, House Bill 12, could be amended in the Senate and then advanced, which would avoid the need for House committees to vote on it again.

“If that happens, I’m confident we have the votes on the Senate floor to get it passed,” Wirth said.

But Senate changes to the House-approved bill could also set the stage for a high-stakes legislative conference committee in the final days of the session, in which appointed lawmakers from each legislative chamber would try to hammer out a compromise.

Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, sponsor of one of the cannabis legalization bills, said there is still “plenty of time” left in this year’s session, which ends March 20.

“I have full confidence that the Senate will get a bill back to the House; with some amendments but in more than enough time to get this bill to the governor’s desk,” Candelaria told the Journal. “Thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity are on the line.”

But there are several issues to be resolved, including plant count and license limits for cannabis producers.

And several Republicans have suggested they would not support the House-approved bill in its current form and prefer other approaches to cannabis legalization.

Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, sponsor of a cannabis legalization bill that would allow New Mexico cities and counties to decide whether dispensaries could be located within their boundaries, said he objects to the proposed tax rate – it could be higher than 20% – and regulatory framework of the House measure.

He also said he believes “social justice” provisions included in the House-approved bill, such as expungement for cannabis possession convictions and a community grant fund to pay for education and other outreach efforts, should be kept separate from the issue of cannabis legalization.

Pirtle said in a recent interview that he has not been part of the working group discussions, adding, “I would help them if I was included in (the talks).”

While New Mexico lawmakers debate the issue, other states are moving ahead with legalization measures, as Virginia is on the verge of becoming the 16th state to legalize recreational marijuana.

In New Mexico, the state already has a medical cannabis program with more than 100,000 enrolled members. In addition, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law a 2019 bill that made possession of up to a half-ounce of marijuana a civil offense punishable with a $50 fine.

While the governor also supports cannabis legalization, as long as legislation includes safeguards for children and medical cannabis users, she has not weighed in on which of the cannabis bills she prefers – at least not publicly.

But there are plenty of strong opinions to go around.

Ben Lewinger, executive director of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, said the legalization bill should be simple and streamlined.

But he said most licensed medical cannabis producers would support the House-approved bill if amendments are added dealing with cannabis production limits and industry representation in the rule-making process.

“It’s not anti-free market; it’s just that with a new recreational program the state needs to be able to do that to protect small businesses,” Lewinger said, citing the experiences of Oregon and other states that have enacted production limits after legalizing cannabis.

Proposals to legalize recreational marijuana have made incremental progress at the Roundhouse in recent years but have ultimately stalled before reaching the governor’s desk.

While many supporters are still optimistic this could be the year for a green breakthrough, due in part to election-related changes in the Senate, the delays on moving a compromise bill forward could signal the complexities of the issue.

“I think a lot of obstacles … still very much exist,” Lewinger said.

Home » Blogs » At the Roundhouse » Down to the wire for cannabis legalization

Insert Question Legislature form in Legis only stories

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email

taboola desktop

ABQjournal can get you answers in all pages


Questions about the Legislature?
Albuquerque Journal can get you answers
Email addresses are used solely for verification and to speed the verification process for repeat questioners.
Housing Trust funds boost 4 projects
ABQnews Seeker
Over $2M approved by the New ... Over $2M approved by the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority
A half-century later, activist and NM native Dolores Huerta ...
ABQnews Seeker
Huerta is back in her native ... Huerta is back in her native New Mexico to participate the 30th Annual César Chávez and Dolores Huerta Celebration on Saturday, March 25, at ...
Javonte Johnson latest Lobo to enter transfer portal
ABQnews Seeker
Javonte Johnson, who started 65 games ... Javonte Johnson, who started 65 games at UNM, is the fourth Lobo this week to enter the NCAA transfer portal.
PBR in the Pit? It’s a slam dunk says ...
ABQnews Seeker
Ty Murray feels right at home ... Ty Murray feels right at home in the Pit, where the annual PBR tour stop has become a huge hit for fans and the ...
New Mexico State hires Jason Hooten as men's basketball ...
ABQnews Seeker
Jason Hooten, who coached the past ... Jason Hooten, who coached the past 19 years at Sam Houston State is the new men's basketball coach of the NMSU Aggies.
Geothermal development incentives on governor’s desk
ABQnews Seeker
If signed, the bill would expand ... If signed, the bill would expand Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department duties to promote the industry in the state through newly established accounts ...
Albuquerque city councilors make $33,660 a year. That could ...
ABQnews Seeker
Citizen committee that sets elected official ... Citizen committee that sets elected official pay wants city councilors to get 87% raise
Biden might keep Space Command in Colorado. That would ...
ABQnews Seeker
The head of a business group ... The head of a business group that supports Kirtland Air Force Base says ABQ’s proximity to Space Command in Colorado Springs helps Kirtland's Space ...
Albuquerque city councilor says this year is his last
ABQnews Seeker
District 2 rep Isaac Benton came ... District 2 rep Isaac Benton came into office in 2005