Legislators in New Mexico recently got a look at the complex process that will entail the establishment of a legal cannabis industry for 21-year-old adults and older to partake in recreational cannabis and cannabis-related products. The lawmakers spent approximately three hours witnessing testimony and concerns about everything from how to measure levels of intoxication in drivers, workplace safety, and if the proposed recreational program would upset the medical cannabis program already in place.
The main focus of the debate centered around the 140-page document that aims to legalize, regulate, and tax recreational cannabis. Currently, the only legal cannabis in the state is purely medical.
This document is known as House Bill 356. It has cleared the first committee with a 5-2 win for Democrats supporting the document.
House Bill 356 currently includes:
- 19 percent tax rate on recreational cannabis sales, which could generate a projected $56 million in revenue
- The expungement of criminal records due to cannabis-related arrests and convictions
- The ability for cities and counties to prohibit the sale of recreational cannabis
“Prohibition simply does not work and the country is coming to the realization of that,” said Antonio Maestas, a Democratic representative of Albuquerque.
That said, Maestas and four more House Democratic cosponsors said that they’re open to the changes aimed towards the raising concerns by opponents and supporters.
Key concerns of speakers who recently addressed the House Health and Human Services Committee included how to ensure medical patients stay in a steady supply of the right products as well as how to keep edible cannabis-based products out of the hands, and mouths, of children.
“We are taking all those comments to heart. We want to make sure we do this right,” said Javier Martinez, one of the cosponsoring Democratic representatives from Albuquerque.
Among other groups who voiced their concerns were business groups. Their main concern being workplace safety due to the proposal which would prohibit punishable actions to be taken against employees who are enrolled in the medical cannabis program unless said workers are in positions which are “safety-sensitive.”
“We strongly believe that employers must have the right to establish a drug-free workplace and have the ability to enforce that,” said a businessman speaking for the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, Sherman McCorkle.
The legislature is now approximately halfway through its two-month session. If it is to be passed into law, it will need to continue moving forward through a network of committees rather quickly and gain approval from both legislative chambers by the middle of March.
For now, the document’s future is unclear as similar proposals have been blocked by Democratic senators with moderate views on cannabis in the past. However, both Maestas and Martinez have said that they’ve taken action to address criticism aimed towards the bill.
For example, legal cannabis businesses would be required to keep a percentage of their supplies on hand strictly for the medical cannabis program. Also, cannabis packaging wouldn’t be allowed to target children.
Furthermore, employers would be able to prohibit impairment and possession of cannabis at work. Likewise, police officers are already trained on how to recognize the signs of driver impairment.
As for now, the bill is headed to the House Judiciary Committee, which could well be the last stop it makes before reaching the House floor. Approval by the Senate would also be required. On the bright side, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, says that she would support cannabis legalization so long as proper safeguards are put in place to protect children and other related circumstance.