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Editorial: Legalizing cannabis needs straightforward, bipartisan approach

We’ve said before there are a lot of concurrent interests in any move to legalize recreational cannabis. After a year of unparalleled economic hardship in New Mexico, and years of debate and working groups, pot continues to bogart the legislative agenda, clouding the minds of the governor and some lawmakers who just finished a 60-day legislative session that minimized public input and frayed nerves.

Kudos to lawmakers’ decision to take cannabis off the table at the last minute of the regular session, clearing the way for passage of key bipartisan bills on topics such as redistricting and transparency that otherwise would have died when the clock struck noon March 20.

But cannabis did not stay off the table for long. Even though the most recent pot bills call for recreational cannabis sales to start March 2022 at the earliest, today lawmakers will regroup in special session. The Roundhouse remains barricaded and closed to the public, and a very limited number of folks can testify via Zoom. It’s like a radio contest – you may be our lucky 50th caller and get heard!

The pie-in-the-sky revenue forecasts have been downsized by tens of millions. The 21-page bill by Rep. Javier Martínez was ground up with amendments, absent public-safety safeguards and so larded up with social justice provisions it couldn’t be rolled across the finish line. To be successful, lawmakers need to streamline a bill focused on public safety and save the social justice concerns for 2022. Martinez’s bill didn’t kick in until next spring/summer, after all.

If New Mexico is going down this road – and with more surrounding states legalizing pot it is likely the lauded revenue stream is simply shifted local dollars – it is imperative:

• Employers can maintain drug-free workplaces and abide by federal prohibitions if they work with the feds, who consider marijuana an illegal narcotic.

• Businesses have strict guidelines on advertising and marketing, especially regarding minors. Look at lessons learned from tobacco and alcohol, especially with our horrifying drug overdose rate and DWI fatality record.

• Property owners can restrict use.

• Law enforcement and prosecutors have tools and training to deal with drugged driving.

• Local communities can limit the number and location of retail outlets and user areas.

• Taxes are kept as low as possible to keep prices competitive and discourage the black market.

• Revenue is not all earmarked for pet projects – the goal is to make money for the state, right?

Once again, most revisions and compromises are happening in secret, “behind closed doors and it lacks the transparency New Mexicans want and deserve,” Senate Republican Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, said Monday. Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, who sponsored a pot bill, added “if we eventually see a cannabis bill, I want the public to know that it was not brokered in good faith with input from all stakeholders.”

The Legislature has been debating recreational marijuana for a decade. The governor has had a cannabis working group since 2019. Yet today it’s a crisis requiring the nation’s first-ever special legislative session to legalize adult use of pot. It is also the third special session in less than year, at an average cost of $50,000 per day, with little to no public input.

Again, there is no emergency, no real public debate, but here we are. So here’s to allowing pragmatism and caution to rule the day. If we have to have recreational cannabis, let it be via a clean, bipartisan bill that focuses on public safety.

editorials

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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