New Mexico considers cannabis subsidies, crime expungement

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SANTA FE, N.M. | A Democrat-backed bill to legalize recreational marijuana businesses in all towns and counties across New Mexico is getting its first public vetting by lawmakers.

A legislative committee will convene Tuesday on the Senate floor to accommodate crowds amid intense interest in a bill that subsidizes medical marijuana and automatically expunges many past pot convictions.

An initial draft of the bill from Democratic Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino of Albuquerque would subsidize medical marijuana for low-income patients, automatically expunge many past pot convictions and override local governments that don’t welcome the industry in an effort to stamp out black markets.

Every recreational dispensary would be required to offer medical marijuana to patients who qualify under a long list of medical conditions such as cancer, post-traumatic stress, and chronic pain. New Mexico founded its medical cannabis program in 2007.

The legislation responds to evidence of escalating prices and scarce offerings for medical marijuana in states including Oregon that have authorized recreational marijuana. No state yet mandates medical cannabis sales at marijuana shops, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

A bipartisan legalization bill last year that involved state-run cannabis stores won House approval by a two-vote margin before stalling without another floor vote in the Senate, where several moderate Democrats have openly opposed legalization.

Deliberations begin this year in the Senate, where a handful of Republicans have backed past legalization efforts and some Democrats are firmly against it.

This year’s initiative hews closely to recommendations of a legalization policy task force assembled by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and led by Albuquerque city councilor Pat Davis.

The bill would reserve tax revenue from marijuana sales for law enforcement agencies and public education efforts to prevent intoxicated driving.

It breaks with task force recommendations by allowing small quantities of home grown marijuana.