New Mexico is joining a wave of states legalizing recreational weed as its Democrat-dominated legislature sent a package of marijuana bills on Wednesday to a supportive governor.
Lawmakers used a marathon legislative session to push through marijuana legalization for adults over 21 and a companion bill that automatically erases many past marijuana convictions.
The bills would legalize recreational pot sales in New Mexico by April 2022.
New Mexico would join 16 states that have already legalized marijuana. California and Colorado were among the first in the U.S. to legalize the drug, with Arizona following suit earlier this year through a ballot initiative.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a legalization bill on Wednesday, and a proposal in Virginia is awaiting the governor’s signature.
The New Mexico bills would reconsider criminal drug sentences for about 100 prisoners and give the governor a strong hand in regulating the industry.
New Mexico flirted with cannabis legalization in the 1990s under then-Gov. Gary Johnson. The state’s medical marijuana program founded in 2007 has attracted more than 100,000 patients.
Several opponents of legalization in the state Senate were replaced with Democrats in 2020 primary elections, paving the way for Wednesday’s vote.
Under the advancing legalization package, New Mexico would levy an initial excise tax on recreational marijuana sales of 12 percent that eventually rises to 18 percent. That’s on top of current gross receipts on sales that range from roughly 5 percent to 9 percent.
Possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana would cease to be a crime, and people would be allowed six plants at home or up to 12 per household.
The reforms would eliminate taxes on the sales of medical marijuana.
“The United States of America is in the midst of a sea change when it comes to this,” Democratic state Rep. Javier Martinez of Albuquerque, lead sponsor of the legalization bill, said. “This bill begins to repair the harms of prohibition.”
State oversight would largely fall to the governor-appointed superintendent of the Regulation and Licensing Department that would issue licenses for a fee to marijuana-related businesses.
The agency initially would have the authority to limit marijuana production levels by major producers.
The legalization bill creates a cannabis control division to oversee 10 types of industry licenses. Those include licenses with low annual fees for small producers to grow up to 200 marijuana plants and also package and sell their products.
Past drug convictions don’t automatically disqualify applicants for marijuana business licenses. The odor of marijuana or suspicion of possession are no longer legal grounds to stop, detain or search people.
Legalization bill co-sponsor Rep. Deborah Armstrong says New Mexico will respond to early pitfalls of legalization in other states as it mandates child-proof packaging for marijuana products.
Public health advocates condemned provisions that allow public consumption lounges for recreational cannabis, citing the dangers of secondhand smoke and vapor to workers and patrons.
Local governments cannot prohibit pot businesses but can regulate locations and hours of operation under the proposal. Bill sponsors say that sheriffs and police want consistency from town to town on rules and enforcement.
Republican state Sen. Gay Kernan of Hobbs voted against legalization and said she was amazed that her colleagues would support New Mexicans’ ability to buy mind-altering drugs amid the state’s struggles with poverty and opioid overdoses.
“I just think it’s terribly unfair to impose this kind of significant change in our way of life in areas of the state that clearly do not welcome this,” Kernan said.
The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.
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