New Mexico Fails To Legalize Recreational Marijuana, But There's Always 2021
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New Mexico won’t become the 12th state to legalize recreational marijuana - at least, not yet. After a legalization bill died in committee during the 2020 session, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she will try again in 2021.
The defeated plan leaves an untapped marijuana market in the southwestern state of 2 million people. State experts project legal adult-use marijuana will create 11,000 jobs and rake in $54 million annually in tax revenue for New Mexico.
Lujan Grisham put together a workgroup to create the legalization plan headed by Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis. The group’s legislation was filed in January. However, in February the state Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-4 to table the bill, with two Democrats joining Republican lawmakers to stop the bill from moving forward.
Opposition came from a coalition that included the local Roman Catholic Church, the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, and a group opposed to marijuana legalization called Smart Approaches to Marijuana.
The governor believes lawmakers are just putting off the inevitable.
In a statement released through her office, Lujan Grisham said she is “disappointed but not deterred.”
“Legalized recreational cannabis in New Mexico is inevitable,” she said. “The people of New Mexico have said they want it. A diversified state economy demands it. Poll after poll has demonstrated that New Mexicans want a 21st-century economy and want cannabis to be part of it.”
She vowed to have another bill considered during the 2021 state legislative session.
The bill addressed issues that have caused problems in other states.
The plan, which would have allowed marijuana sales to those 21 and older. addressed many of the issues that have come up in other states. For example, it called for prominent warning labels on all packages to keep weed out of the hands of children.
Also, the state planned to levy a 9% excise tax that would have funded law enforcement, education against driving under the influence and substance abuse treatment, according to the Associated Press.
New Mexico lawmakers had also addressed social justice issues that sparked debate in Illinois (where lawmakers legalized cannabis) and New Jersey and New York (where lawmakers haven’t, yet).
A portion of excise tax proceeds would have helped communities negatively and disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs. Past marijuana convictions that did not involve trafficking would have been expunged.
So, why did it fail?
Opposition from the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, and the local Catholic Church helped defeat the bill. The coalition argued that adult-use marijuana presents a safety hazard on the roads and in the workplace.
The church has influence in the state. The Pew Research Center reports that 34 percent of New Mexico residents identify as Catholic, which is the largest segment of any religious affiliation.
Opponents also questioned why local labor unions would have a hand in deciding who won marijuana dispensary licenses, according to the Albuquerque Journal. Further, Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, said legalization would put “significant challenges” on employees and employers in terms of maintaining drug-free workplace policies.
That opposition is what Lujan Grisham and other marijuana proponents will need to better prepare to face in 2021.