Weed and school — that was New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s focus during her second State of the State address at the second onset of New Mexico’s 54th Legislature on Jan. 21.
Speaking to a joint legislative session, Lujan Grisham outlined her legislative priorities — from the legalization of cannabis to teacher pay raises a hard stance on crime and making college free for New Mexico residents — promising a busy 30-day session in 2020.
“As we open this 30-day session, I challenge you to think beyond the 30 days. Think beyond even this year,” Lujan Grisham said during the speech.“We stand together in the sunrise of a new decade. What we do here in this session, in this coming year, will set the course for what comes over the horizon in 2030 and beyond.”
Opportunity scholarship: free college for New Mexico residents
“(The Opportunity Scholarship) is a prudent, sustainable investment in the bridge we must build between our classrooms and our workforce. We have the power to make tuition-free higher education a reality, benefiting an astounding 55,000 New Mexico students this fall,” Lujan Grisham said.
Lujan Grisham’s Sep. 2019 announcement that she would pursue the creation of an additional state-sponsored scholarship has been met with praise from University student-leaders and skepticism from some lawmakers.
As of the publication of this article, the proposed Opportunity Scholarship would allocate $35 million to 55,000 students across New Mexico. The scholarship would cover the remaining cost of attendance after other funds, such as the lottery scholarship and pell grants, were accessed.
Lawmaker skepticism revolved around the proposal's effectiveness and it's method of funding. A Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) report said the scholarship's cost would be $49 million, a 40% increase from the governor's proposal. The LFC report also said that the money could be better spent elsewhere.
New Mexico has the third-highest rate of loan default, according to the U.S. Department of Education, only Nevada and Mississippi have higher rates. Nearly 50%of 2018 New Mexico college graduates had an average student loan debt of $22,000, the second-lowest in the nation, according to a 2019 study by the Institute of College Access and Success.
As of the publication of this article, no legislation for the Opportunity Scholarship had been proposed.
Legalization of Recreational cannabis
“It’s high time we stopped holding ourselves and our economy back,” said Lujan Grisham as she championed legalizing recreational marijuana use. The audience chuckled a little in response and the governor went off-script to respond back with a, “no pun intended” and a laugh.
The governor made an earnest appeal to the legislators in the room to support legalizing recreational marijuana, dedicating more than a few minutes of her speech to the topic. She claimed that 75% of all New Mexicans support legalization and highlighted that that included rural community support.
She pointed out that New Mexico can learn from the experiences of other states but cautioned that we don’t want to wait too long for fear of missing out on the economic development potential.
“We can get in on the ground floor or we can try to play catch up — I know which one I prefer,” Lujan Grisham said.
The governor emphasized that legalization would create “a thriving and safe new industry employing thousands of New Mexicans and delivering hundreds of millions in revenue back to cities and counties and the state for public safety and health care,” said Lujan Grisham.
Andy Lyman, a reporter for the New Mexico Political Report, commented in a running commentary of the speech that “the two legalization proposals (that have been pre-filed) would allow counties and municipalities to tack on an additional four percent tax.” This is a carrot the proponents are hoping will persuade some of the more conservative, rural legislators that previously voted against the bill.
According to a recent Santa Fe New Mexican article, there are still a number of opponents in the NM Senate. Some are concerned about public safety, while others think that New Mexico is already struggling with drug dependence problems and isn’t in a place to add marijuana to the mix.
“I haven’t talked to a law enforcement officer or a rehab director yet that tell me, ‘Oh don’t worry about it, it’s not gonna have an impact,’” Rep. James Townsend, (R-Artesia) told the Santa Fe New Mexican.
After the conclusion of the speech Rep. Javier Martinez (D-Bernalillo), chair of the House Tax and Revenue Committee, and a sponsor of both of the bills expressed support for the governor’s appeal to legalize recreational marijuana.
“This is a sweeping and wide-reaching proposal, and it deserves to be vetted at length,” Martinez said.
Martinez added that with Lujan Grisham’s leadership, supporters of legalization were able to travel the states and develop a legislative framework.
“Our bill not only protects and enhances the medical cannabis program, but it also ensures that communities most impacted by the failed war on drugs are made whole again,” Martinez said. “I’m proud of our bill and proud to be working with Gov. Lujan Grisham.”
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Lissa Knudsen is a beat reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @lissaknudesen
Justin Garcia is the Editor-in-chief of the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Just516garc