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Senators deadlock over cannabis legalization as session nears end

SANTA FE – Legislators are at a stalemate in efforts to legalize marijuana in New Mexico with less than a week remaining to send a bill to the governor.

A state Senate panel pulled cannabis discussions off its agenda minutes before a Sunday hearing.

Legislators are searching for common ground among advocates for legalization who say the industry would help New Mexico’s economic recovery from the pandemic.

Divergent views on marijuana taxation, licensing and pardon procedures for past convictions are complicating efforts to bring a final bill to a crucial Senate vote.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has set cannabis legalization as a priority this year as her administration looks for new sources of employment as an antidote to high rates of poverty.

In one camp, Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, is advocating for a streamlined approach to taxation and regulation aimed at stamping out the black market for marijuana and providing easy entry for entrepreneurs.

Successful legislation also is likely to include social justice provisions within a House-approved bill from Democratic state Rep. Javier Martínez of Albuquerque that emphasizes aid to communities adversely affected by marijuana criminalization.

The House-backed bill would provide automated pardon and expungement procedures for past marijuana possession charges and convictions. It also would set aside public money in the future to underwrite vocation training for cannabis workers, education to prevent substance abuse, and an array of social services in communities battered by policing against illicit drugs.

Legislators have until the close of the session at noon Saturday to send bills to the governor. Several die-hard opponents to legalization were ousted from the Senate in 2020 elections.

Negotiations over a legalization bill have faltered as some current medical marijuana producers insist on price supports and a head start in the licensing process to bring recreational-use cannabis to market.

New Mexico can’t approve legislation by ballot initiative and would join a few states that have legalized marijuana through the legislative process, including Vermont, Illinois and, soon, Virginia.