A New Mexico House committee passed a marijuana legalization bill with social equity provisions.

The Health and Human Services (HHS) Committee approved the comprehensive cannabis reform measure in a 7-4 vote. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Javier Martinez (D), is one of several legalization measures introduced in the New Mexico legislature’s 2021 session. One of those, sponsored by Rep. Tara Lujan (D), is more restrictive in scope and was also considered by the HHS committee but didn’t advance.

Under Martinez’s bill, it would be legal for adults 21 and older to possess marijuana – with the minimum possession limit set at two ounces – while home cultivation of six mature and six immature plants for personal use would also be allowed. The measure would further establish a regulated and taxed system of legal cannabis sales.

Marijuana reform advocates in New Mexico are particularly pleased at the progress of Martinez’s proposal given its social equity provisions that would ensure cannabis sales tax revenues would fund programs and services in communities most harmed by the state and federal war on drugs. The approved bill – HB 12 – would also provide for automatic expungements of prior marijuana-related convictions.

If passed into law, HB 12 would require New Mexico lawmakers to implement a legal market by January 2022, with operating medical cannabis dispensaries permitted to service recreational users a few months earlier from October. HB 12 has now been referred to the House Taxation and Revenue Committee, which Rep. Martinez chairs.

The House committee removed certain provisions from the bill before voting to advance it. One would have required individuals to prove they had legally sourced their cannabis, while another would have restricted legal sales of marijuana paraphernalia to licensed dispensaries. The final version of the approved bill also contains a provision to ensure tribal governments can access the legal marijuana industry, while another would allow smaller marijuana operators with microbusiness licenses to start selling before larger competitors to help level the playing field. HHS committee lawmakers briefly considered other amendments but agreed these would be taken up in later committees.

Aside from Martinez and Lujan’s legalization proposals in the House, Senate lawmakers are also set to debate several measures to legalize cannabis. One, submitted by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto (D), is identical to Lujan’s proposal, while another sponsored by Sen. Cliff Pirtle (R) would allow possession of up to two ounces of marijuana and establish a legal private industry. The final legalization bill filed in the Senate comes courtesy of Sen. Jacob Candelaria (D), and it’s broadly similar in scope to Martinez’s bill. All three are set for a hearing in the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee but a date hasn’t yet been scheduled.

The flurry of marijuana reform proposal activity in New Mexico follows Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) frequent calls for cannabis legalization, which have grown in intensity since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Grisham believes the measure is necessary to bolster New Mexico’s ailing economy, while House and Senate lawmakers met recently to hear what financial experts think about marijuana legalization’s potential economic impact.

Grisham included cannabis legalization in her 2021 legislative agenda, while the measure’s chances of success this session were raised by the victories of legalization advocates to the Senate presidency and the Finance Committee chair in place of prohibitionists. The start of legal cannabis sales in neighboring Arizona, following a voter-approved ballot initiative on Election Day 2020, is also sure to spur action on cannabis reform in New Mexico.

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