SANTA FE, N.M. | A proposal to legalize recreational marijuana through the New Mexico Legislature was rejected by a Senate committee Wednesday after an excoriating critique from the panel’s Democratic chairman.
Two Democrats joined Republicans in a 6-4 vote to table a bill that would have legalized recreational marijuana sales in every city and county while sheltering the state’s existing medical cannabis program with tax breaks and patients subsidies.
The vote leaves little or no chance for reviving the bill before the annual legislative session ends at noon on Feb. 20.
The initiative was backed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham amid efforts by her administration to attract new industries to the state and trim economic independence on oil production.
Democratic Judiciary committee chairman Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces said the 186-page bill brought together “all the cooks in the kitchen” and produced a plan that unfairly favored special interests.
“This bill decides who will control the industry and who will make hundreds of millions of dollars, and who will not,” he said.
He objected to licensing provisions for marijuana businesses that require an agreement with organized labor, the granting of business licenses to people with past drug convictions including distribution offenses, and other issues.
“If you’re El Chapo, we’re not going to consider your conviction for being a drug kingpin in granting your license,” Cervantes said.
A bipartisan proposal last year to legalize recreational cannabis sales at state-owned marijuana stores won House approval by a two-vote margin before stalling in the Senate, where several moderate Democrats have openly opposed legalization.
This year’s bill from Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino of Albuquerque would have required medical cannabis sales at every dispensary to stamp out the black market, while waiving some taxes on prescription pot and providing subsidies to low-income patients. Many provisions responded to instances in other states including Oregon where recreational marijuana has upended medical cannabis markets and programs.
Republican Sen. Ron Griggs of Alamogordo said it was problematic to require county participation in a state where local alcohol sales can be prohibited and two counties were “dry” until last year.
Democratic Sen. Richard Martinez of Ojo Caliente voted against the bill after noting that the state has put too little money into treatment programs for opioids in his district.
Sen. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque apologized to people who put the bill and recent amendments together. The plan hewed closely to recommendations of a legalization policy task force assembled by the governor and led by Albuquerque city councilor Pat Davis.
“They’ve been working all year and we’ve given them an hour and I think it’s insulting,” she said. “I think the process is broken.”
Only Illinois and Vermont have legalized recreational marijuana through their legislatures, while others have used ballot initiatives.
The stalled New Mexico bill called for a 9% excise tax on marijuana sales for spending on local law enforcement, preventive education against driving under the influence and substance abuse treatment.
A portion of excise tax proceeds also would have gone toward social justice causes designed to help communities negatively and disproportionately affected by past federal drug policies.
Cervantes criticized exceptions to a residency requirement for marijuana business license holders for applicants who can show they’ll generate a substantial number of jobs.
The bill also would have created an investment fund for marijuana entrepreneurs in communities hard-hit by the drug war. Many past pot convictions that don’t involve trafficking would have been automatically expunged.
This year’s initiative hews closely to recommendations of a legalization policy task force assembled by the governor and led by Albuquerque city councilor Pat Davis.
New Mexico founded its medical cannabis program in 2007.