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New Mexico Senate takes up recreational marijuana legalization after House passage

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SANTA FE, New Mexico -- Efforts to legalize marijuana in New Mexico took center stage Saturday as a state Senate panel considered creating a taxed and regulated market for recreational sales amid significant support among lawmakers.

The Senate consideration came after a legalization measure passed the state House on Friday night with a 39-31 vote.

The situation marks a tantalizing moment for proponents of marijuana legalization after voters last year ousted hard-line opponents that held Democratic leadership posts in the Senate.

However, some lawmakers remain divided on the state's approach to legalization.

Friday's House-approved bill from Democratic Rep. Javier Martínez of Albuquerque emphasizes social justice components such as subsidized medical cannabis for the poor and aims for a combined tax rate of roughly 20% on retail sales.

The House shunned proposals to extend tight restrictions on the number of production licenses on the quantity of pot grown that would mimic oversight under the current medical cannabis program.

Critics note that system has made medical cannabis more expensive in New Mexico than neighboring Colorado and Arizona and warn against creating a legal cartel of marijuana business license holders.

“Our bill provides for a robust opportunity in an equitable way,” said Democratic Rep. Andrea Romero, of Santa Fe, a co-sponsor the House-approved proposal. “Reducing the harm that comes from the criminalization of cannabis is seen throughout our bill."

That initiative closely resembles a proposal from Democratic state Sen. Jacob Candelaria that provides for state and local excise taxes on recreational marijuana, lifts limits on cultivation and aims to open up new niches for small-scale craft marijuana outlets, resorts with permitted cannabis consumption areas, and businesses that cater to home-grow hobbyist.

Candelaria, of Albuquerque, urged his colleagues to reject caps on supply and the number of production licenses. He also urged colleagues to take cannabis legalization legislation a step further with provisions that decriminalize possession of small amounts of other illicit drugs.

A separate proposal from Republican Sen. Cliff Pirtle of Roswell is shifting the debate toward an emphasis on highway and workforce safety and stamping out the illicit markets through relatively low taxes — a 4% excise tax rate combined with current gross receipts taxes on sales and business transactions.

“The first goal when legalizing cannabis, I believe, is to put the illicit market out of business,” said Pirtle, whose bill would create a cannabis control commission with participation from law enforcement.

“We 100% protect our employers' right to a zero-tolerance, drug-free workplace," Pirtle said.

Pirtle and other Republican legislators from communities near Texas say constituents are wary of a possible proliferation of pot shops that cater to marijuana tourism on main streets in small communities. In response, Pirtle's bill would place a 1-mile buffer between marijuana retailers.

The state's constitution doesn't provide for legalization by ballot initiative, putting the Legislature firmly in charge of legalization and related issues of taxation and law enforcement.

Associated Press

ABC News

Comments

2 Comments

  1. Any employer that enforces a “100% drug free workplace” will have no employees. If you are under the impression that a prescription legitimizes your drug use and make you morally right then you’re a hypocrite. Just cause you have a script for opioid use after work doesn’t make you better than someone who goes home and tokes. If you say “100%” you better mean 100%, not only people with rx.

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