(04/01/21) EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this article asserted that New Mexico State Legislature legalized recreational cannabis when they, in fact, only passed a bill that would legalize recreational cannabis if signed by the Governor. In addition, a previous version said the Senate vote was 23-19, when it was actually 22-15.
SANTA FE — On March 31, the New Mexico State Legislature passed a bill to legalize recreational cannabis after a contentious vote of 22-15 in the Senate.
House Bill 2 (HB 2) passed on the Senate floor around 8 p.m. during a special session prompted by the Governor after legalization efforts failed during the Regular Session. The bill advanced after Legislators killed its competing bill, Senate Bill 3 (SB 3), in committee.
New Mexico will soon be the 17th state to legalize recreational cannabis, following New York which passed a legalization bill earlier this week.
The bill is now at Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk, where it is expected to be signed into law.
The Senate’s Cannabis Regulation Act versus the House’s Cannabis Regulation Act
The identically named Senate and House bill were both trying to legalize and regulate weed through drastically different methods driven by opposing principles.
Senator Cliff Pirtle’s (R) bill, SB 3, which follows his similar bill from last session, prioritized curbing the illicit market and treating cannabis as just another agricultural commodity.
One of the largest divides between the Senate and House bill was over plant supply regulations, with the former explicitly against placing a cap on how many plants a licensee can grow.
The House bill will allow the state to limit the number of plants a business is allowed to have, in an attempt to give small businesses an equal opportunity to compete in the market. The maximum amount of plants is subject to change each year based on the national average demand for cannabis. The regulation will only be in place for the first three years, so long as the market remains stable.
Pirtle expressed concerns that the $50 fee per plant might deter smaller farmers from entering the market. In the House bill, the fee for a microbusiness license is set at $2,500 with an additional yearly fee of $500.
The two bills also differed on the sale of cannabis to consumers. Both limited sales to adults over the age of 21 but the House bill went a step further, limiting the amount sold to no more than 2 oz of cannabis flower, 16 grams of extract and 800 mg of edibles at a time.
HB2 will also allow for non-residential consumption sites to accommodate those without a permanent residence, despite considerable debate on the floor surrounding the potential hazards of second-hand cannabis smoke.
While the House bill lacked explicit provisions for restorative social justice, a separate companion expungement bill, Senate Bill 2 (SB 2), passed in the Senate and intends to fill that void.
The key difference between HB2 and the prior bill that failed in the Regular session is the omission of expungement of arrest records for cannabis related offenses, such as trafficking with intention to distribute.
The separation of social justice provisions and market regulations into two bills echoes previous sentiments expressed in the regular session, where Senators said that the two issues were independent and needed to be addressed individually.
Expungement remained a priority for lawmakers as they tried to provide social equity provisions to roll back the damages of America’s failed war on drugs, which has disproportionately impacted communities of color for decades.
Expungement seals arrest records for cannabis from public knowledge, and is different from the dismissal of charges against those currently incarcerated for cannabis offenses.
SB 2’s provision for automatic expungement is meant to mitigate discrimination or unfair treatment against those who have been charged with a crime that would no longer be a crime upon legalization.
“The biggest thing that it does, and the thing that is directly related to cannabis regulation, is that it creates a process for automatic expungement of cannabis offensives where that offense, if the cannabis regulation it passes, would no longer be a crime in New Mexico,” Senator Duhigg said.
Thirty days after the bill takes effect, correctional facilities must review the criminal cases of those who are currently incarcerated for cannabis, and review their eligibility for dismissal and/or expungement.
HB2 will also establish a cannabis control division to oversee the inspection and monitoring of cannabis establishments. Unlike the Senate bill, persons with vested financial interests aren’t explicitly prohibited from becoming division employees.
If Lujan Grisham signs HB2 into law, cannabis will be available for recreational use for adults 21 and older in April of next year.
Gabriel Biadora is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @gabrielbiadora
Madeline Pukite is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @madelinepukite