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Will New Mexico legalization happen in 2021?

“It being exactly 4:20 (p.m.), we go to House Bill 12,” Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, quipped Friday, Feb. 26, to begin the debate over legalization of marijuana.

Hours later, the New Mexico House of Representatives passed marijuana legalization for the second consecutive time in a 60-day session. HB 12 passed on a 39-31 vote Friday, a wider margin than the two-vote victory in 2019.

It now moves to the Senate, which will have more than three weeks left in the session to consider the bill. The 2019 bill reached the Senate Finance Committee with two days left in the session, but never made it to a vote of the full Senate.

New Mexico legalization bill

HB 12 would legalize the sale and possession of marijuana to those age 21 and older. It is estimated that by the third year, sales would produce more than $44 million in state revenue and nearly $24 million in local revenue.

A new state agency called the Cannabis Control Division would be created to regulate the new industry. It would also take over management of the existing medical marijuana program and establish cannabis education and training programs that are required under the bill.

The law would allow consumers to purchase up to two ounces of cannabis plant and up to 16 grams of extract each day. They would also be allowed to grow their own plants. There would be a limit on how many mature plants a private person could have, but no limit on commercial growers.

Local governments would be able to regulate conditions, such as hours of operation or store location, but would not be allowed to pass a local ban. There would be an 8 percent excise tax that would go to the state, and local governments would have the option of an additional tax up to 4 percent.

There is also a provision in the bill for expungement of past criminal convictions for offenses that would be legal under the new law. But there would be new penalties for those selling to or employing anybody under the age of 21.

Revitalizing local economies

In the fiscal impact report on the bill, the state Economic Development Department estimates that nearly 1,600 new jobs would be created if the bill becomes law. But it also notes that many of the provisions of the bill are in direct violation of existing federal law.

“We are embarking on the creation of a brand new multi-million-dollar industry,” sponsor Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, said. He described marijuana legalization as a snowball rolling downhill, with 14 states now included and more joining every year.

But Martinez said his motivation was not the money that could potentially be made in both tax revenue and tourism, but rather stopping the harm that has been done to minority communities by the enforcement of marijuana laws, both in the Albuquerque neighborhood where he grew up and along the southern border.

“When you get to the core of why I’m doing this, it’s because I have seen the faces of the people who have most been impacted by this fake and terrible and un-winnable war on drugs,” he said.

Martinez said HB 12 would protect the existing medical marijuana program, ensure equity and diversity in the new industry and set tax and licensing rates that would generate new revenue but still allow local entrepreneurs to participate.

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