The governor of New Mexico signed a bill into law legalizing recreational cannabis possession and sales, on top of separate legislation to expunge the criminal records of those with prior marijuana-related convictions.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) made marijuana legalization a priority for her administration, arguing the measure was essential for the state to create new jobs and income revenues in the face of the economic downturn precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. After talks over the cannabis legalization bill faltered before the end of the regular legislative session last month, Grisham convened a special session for the purpose of passing the measure.

Now, with the governor’s signature, New Mexico becomes the 17th state to legalize adult-use cannabis, the seventh to do so since November last year, and the third in a matter of weeks after both New York and Virginia passed marijuana legalization bills.

“The legalization of adult-use cannabis paves the way for the creation of a new economic driver in our state with the promise of creating thousands of good paying jobs for years to come,” Gov. Grisham said in a press release, also shared on Twitter. “We are going to increase consumer safety by creating a bona fide industry. We’re going to start righting past wrongs of this country’s failed war on drugs. And we’re going to break new ground in an industry that may well transform New Mexico’s economic future for the better.”

“As we look to rebound from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic,” the press release continues, “entrepreneurs will benefit from this great opportunity to create lucrative new enterprises, the state and local governments will benefit from the added revenue and, importantly, workers will benefit from the chance to land new types of jobs and build careers.”

Before the special session was convened, the marijuana legalization bill – HB 12 – and the separate expungement bill were part of the same legislative package approved by the House but which failed to pass the Senate. To break the impasse, New Mexico lawmakers agreed to split the bill into separate legislation to win over Republicans and moderate Democrats concerned the original proposal was too broad in scope.

Under HB 12’s provisions, adults 21 and older will be able to possess up to two ounces of marijuana, 16 grams of concentrates, and 800 milligrams of cannabis-infused edibles, as well as grow up to six plants at home beginning June 29, 2021. Legal retail sales of marijuana are not slated to start until April 1, 2022 but the state cannabis regulator – the Cannabis Control Division, under the auspices of the state Regulation and Licensing Department – must issue the final license rules for the industry by January 1, 2022. New Mexico’s medical marijuana program will now also be regulated by the Cannabis Control Division but the state Department of Health will continue to process applications from patients seeking marijuana treatment.

The bill sets no limit on the number of marijuana business licenses that can be issued, nor on the number of operating retail dispensaries, unless the state regulator decides to intervene. What’s more, local jurisdictions cannot decide to prohibit cannabis businesses, as some other states have done, though they can set their own zoning policies to restrict dispensaries around, for example, schools.

Sales of cannabis will face an excise tax of 12 percent in addition to New Mexico’s eight percent sales tax. The compromise cannabis legalization bill doesn’t contain all of the social equity provisions of the original proposal, with the focus instead shifting to putting procedures in place to encourage the inclusion of individuals and communities most harmed by marijuana prohibition in the state.

Rep. Javier Martinez (D), the lead sponsor of the original cannabis legalization bill, hailed the compromise measure’s passage into law.

“Today, New Mexico seized a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to establish a multi-million industry with a framework that’s right for our state and will benefit New Mexicans for generations to come,” said Martínez. “Not only are we launching a burgeoning industry that will strengthen our economy, create jobs and generate tax dollars, but we are doing so in an equitable way that will curb the illicit market and undo some damage of the failed war on drugs.”

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