New Mexico legislators seek cannabis compromise to legalize

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – State senators are searching for common ground among advocates for marijuana legalization who say the industry would help New Mexico’s economic recovery from the pandemic.

A Senate panel was scheduled Sunday to review a newly revised bill from Republican state Sen. Cliff Pirtle of Roswell, who has advocated for a streamlined approach to taxation and regulation aimed at stamping out the illicit market for marijuana and providing easy entry for entrepreneurs.

Successful legislation is likely to include social justice provisions from 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 provides automated pardons and expungement of past marijuana possession charges and convictions. It also would set aside public funds in the future to 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.

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

Legislators have until noon on March 20 to send a legalization bill to the governor. Several diehard opponents to legalization were ousted from the state Senate in 2020 elections.

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

Rival legalization proposals are in agreement on a few points.

Medical marijuana would become tax-free like other medicine in New Mexico. Pot shops would reserve consignment space for small producers. Local governments can’t prohibit the pot business their communities, though they will have control of zoning.

And successful legislation would likely bring authorized lounges for social consumption of marijuana in the same style as wineries and craft breweries.

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

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