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New Mexico is on the verge of becoming the next legal cannabis state

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SANTA FE, NM – New Mexico joins a wave of states legalizing recreational marijuana as its democratically dominated legislature sent a package of cannabis bills to a supporting governor on Wednesday.

Lawmakers used a two-day marathon legislature to legalize marijuana for adults over the age of 21 and a companion bill that automatically erases many previous marijuana beliefs and overrides skeptical Republicans.

With the signing of the bills, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham would begin legal recreational cannabis sales by April 2022.

California and Colorado were among the first in the United States to legalize marijuana, with Arizona being among the youngest in the region to follow earlier this year. New York governor Andrew Cuomo signed a legalization bill Wednesday, and a proposal in Virginia is awaiting governor’s signature.

The New Mexico initiative would reconsider the drug abuse criminal convictions for approximately 100 prisoners and give the governor a strong hand in licensing the industry and overseeing supplies.

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Medicine since 2007

New Mexico flirted with legalizing cannabis in the 1990s when the then government. Gary Johnson challenged taboos against decriminalization despite Republican allies. The state’s medical marijuana program, established in 2007, has attracted more than 100,000 patients.

The legislature has so far been reluctant to legalize it. Several stubborn opponents of legalization in the Senate were voted out by the Democrats in the 2020 primary, paving the way for Wednesday’s historic vote.

Tax rate from 12% to 18%

As part of the ongoing legalization package, New Mexico would impose an initial excise tax on recreational marijuana sales of 12%, which eventually climbs to 18%. This is on top of the current gross receipts from sales, which are between 5% and 9%.

Possessing up to 57 grams of marijuana would no longer be a crime, and people would be allowed six plants in their homes – or up to 12 per household.

The reforms would remove taxes on medical marijuana sales and ensure adequate medical care.

Begins “to repair the damage of the ban”

“The United States of America is in the midst of a fundamental change in this regard,” said Albuquerque Democratic MP Javier Martinez, main sponsor of the Legalization Act. “This bill begins to repair the damage caused by the ban.”

State oversight would largely be delegated to the governor-appointed superintendent of the Regulatory and Licensing Department, who issues licenses for a fee to marijuana-related companies. The agency would initially have the authority to limit the marijuana production by large producers – a lever against market offers and prices.

Production cap is a problem

Several senators warned of the production cap as a recipe for creating a government-sanctioned monopoly, while some established medical marijuana manufacturers advocated price supports.

The Legalization Bill establishes a cannabis control department that oversees 10 types of industrial licenses. This includes micro-licenses with low annual fees for small producers to grow up to 200 marijuana plants and package and sell their products.

According to Bill sponsor Martinez, this provides an important level of equity under a law to help communities suffering from marijuana criminalization and rigorous policing.

Previous drug abuse convictions will not automatically disqualify applicants for marijuana business licenses. The smell of marijuana or suspicion of possession are no longer legal grounds to stop, arrest, or search people.

Legalization Bill co-sponsor Rep. Deborah Armstrong says New Mexico will respond to early legalization pitfalls in other states by mandating child-resistant packaging for marijuana products.

Public health advocates condemned regulations that allow the public use of recreational cannabis lounges and cited the dangers of second-hand smoke and steam for workers and patrons.

A low tax version rejected

Legislature overturned a Republican-sponsored bill by Senator Cliff Pirtle of Roswell that highlighted low taxes to eradicate illegal weeds and granted low-cost licenses to smallholders by linking fees to the number of crops grown.

Local governments cannot prohibit top companies, but regulate locations and operating hours according to the proposal. Bill sponsors say city-to-city sheriffs and police want uniform regulation and enforcement.

Republican state Senator Gay Kernan von Hobbs voted against the legalization, saying she was amazed that members of the legislature would support the freedom to purchase mind-altering drugs in New Mexico’s struggles with poverty and opioid overdoses.

“I just think it’s terribly unfair to make this kind of significant change in the way we live and in areas of the state that clearly don’t welcome it,” Kernan said.

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Beth Edmonds