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New Mexico Cannabis News: Competing Bills Up for Vote, Plus Prisoners Gain the Right to MMJ

We’re only a few months into 2021, but New Mexico is already making waves with several big items of cannabis news. As of early February, no fewer than five adult-use bills had been introduced to the Legislature. Notably, the bills’ sponsors include both Democrats and Republicans, who have traditionally been aligned against full legalization. While it’s far too early to predict outcomes, some early moves by legislators point to the importance of social equity measures in any bill that might eventually go before the full Legislature.

And in an unrelated but parallel development, a ruling late last year establishes a legal right for the incarcerated to have access to medical cannabis. While the finding is certainly welcome news for the roughly 18,000 New Mexicans currently behind bars, it’s a precedent that may have broad and important ramifications throughout the land. Plus, it begs the question: can individuals incarcerated for possession now legally access cannabis? And if so, why are they still incarcerated?

New Mexico Cannabis News: Competing Adult-Use Bills Vie for Votes

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When it comes to full legalization, The Land of Enchantment has been on analysts’ shortlists for some time. But that promise inched closed to reality early in 2021, when several prospective adult-use bills were introduced before the New Mexico House Health Committee, a necessary legal waypoint on the road to a full vote by the state Legislature.

One of the bills—House Bill 17—didn’t make it past the committee. Introduced by Rep. Tara Lujan, Democrat of Santa Fe, HB 17 was designed primarily to protect the state’s existing medical cannabis program. It included provisions to limit the number of plants producers could grow and to curb participation by out-of-state entities.

The next proposal—House Bill 12—was put forward by Rep. Javier Martínez, Democrat of Albuquerque. A follow-up to a similar bill put proposed last year, HB 12 includes such notable features as:

  • Comprehensive social equity provisions, including automatic expungement for those convicted of cannabis-related crimes
  • Proactive steps to ensure market equity for those historically locked out of the industry, including provisions for New Mexican microbusinesses to have priority when it comes to production, processing, and retail licensure
  • A focus on maximizing tax revenues, especially given the harmful impact of COVID on the state economy

In mid-February, the committee gave HB 12 the nod to move ahead, underlining the growing importance of social justice in the cannabis realm.

Over in the state Senate, a third bill—SB 13—was introduced in early February by Rep. Daniel Ivey-Soto, Democrat of Albuquerque. It would leave the state’s medical cannabis program intact and create a new Cannabis Regulatory Office. Quoted in the Santa Fe New Mexican, Ivey-Soto stressed the primacy of keeping medical and adult-use cannabis legally distinct: “If it’s adult-use, we’re talking straight-up, nonjudgemental regulation.”

On the other side of the aisle, New Mexico Senator Cliff Pirtle, a Republican representing Chavez, Eddy, and Otero, introduced Senate Bill 288. His bill focuses on personal liberties and public safety and features a notably lower tax rate than HB 13 (13% – 15% as opposed to HB 13’s proposed rate of 21%). Sen. Pirtle’s aim in calling for a lower tax rate is to deny black marketers the opportunity to maintain market share in an overregulated cannabis market. SB 288 is currently with the Senate Tax, Business, and Transportation Committee, which must approve it before it advances to the full Senate.

As if that weren’t enough, a third Senate bill—SB 363—is under consideration with the same Committee. Introduced by Sen. Jacob Candelaria, a Democrat representing Bernalillo County, it’s roughly analogous to the committee-approved HB 12 we referenced a moment ago.

New Mexico Cannabis News: Prisoners Gain Right to MMJ

Senator Candelaria, who we referenced a moment ago, has been busy on the cannabis front. Back in 2019, an Albuquerque resident named Joe Montaño was convicted of drunk driving and sentenced to 90 days’ house arrest. And while Montaño had qualified for medical cannabis prior to his arrest, one of the conditions of Montaño’s sentence was that he not use any illegal drugs.

When Montaño failed a drug test, he was jailed for 30 days. That’s when Senator Candelaria—who also happens to be an attorney—got involved. Claiming that Montaño had nearly lost the commercial refrigeration business he had just launched, Candelaria filed a motion in July of 2020 allowing incarcerated persons access to authorized cannabis medicine.

At the very close of 2020, a ruling by 2nd Judicial District Judge Lucy Solimon found that as a state-certified cannabis patient, Joe Montaño had a right to his medicine. This wasn’t precisely a bombshell; the previous year, state lawmakers had ruled that those under house arrest or probation could have access to medical cannabis. But Judge Solomon’s ruling went further, explicitly including anyone incarcerated in the state of New Mexico.

As we hinted earlier, this is a big deal for the roughly 18,000 prisoners currently being jailed in New Mexico. But it’s safe to say that advocates all around the country will be watching the fallout from this case very closely.

You can count on us to keep an eye on more New Mexico cannabis news as it develops. Though we think you’ll agree: This current crop should tide us over for the foreseeable future!