New Mexico legalizes recreational cannabis

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Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican
·4 min read
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Apr. 12—Calling cannabis a "game changer" for New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill into law Monday that legalizes recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older.

"Congratulations to every single one of us in New Mexico for getting this right," the governor said during a windy and socially distanced news conference on the west side of the state Capitol. "I couldn't be prouder."

The governor also signed into law a separate measure that expunges certain cannabis-related convictions, which could affect tens of thousands of people.

"There is work already on social justice," said Lujan Grisham, adding the state Corrections Department has identified 100 people behind bars today who could be eligible for early release and that the New Mexico State Police identified 150,000 individuals whose convictions will be reviewed for possible expungement.

Legalizing adult-use cannabis brings about social justice "in ways in which we have been talking about and advocating for, for decades," Lujan Grisham said.

"We know one thing, and I'm looking right at the Drug Policy Alliance when I say this," the governor said. "It is a failed war on drugs which has disproportionately, negatively impacted communities of color, and this is a way to not only diversify our economy — good for local governments, good for the state government — but it means that we're bringing about justice in every single community to so many New Mexicans who have waited far too long for us to get that done. And I congratulate this Legislature for getting this bill across the finish line."

The bill signing comes after the governor called a special session to deal almost exclusively with legalizing recreational marijuana after lawmakers failed to reach agreement on the matter during the regular 60-day legislative session. Efforts in previous years had failed as well.

"I think today New Mexicans can finally exhale," said Emily Kaltenbach, a state director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

But not everybody is thrilled about New Mexico becoming the 17th state in the nation to legalize adult-use cannabis.

In a statement issued immediately after the bill signing ceremony, state Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce said recreational marijuana would lead to more crime, underage use and impaired driving.

"The governor has a pipe dream of saving the state's finances by hoping to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars from marijuana revenues, but it's unclear just how much money will end up in state coffers," he said.

According to the bill's fiscal impact report, the industry could create about 11,000 jobs and create tens of millions of dollars in new revenue. According to preliminary estimates, the excise tax will generate at least $20 million for the general fund in the first full fiscal year and grow in subsequent years.

"I hope that all of the projections are more than realized," Lujan Grisham said. "I really hope we exceed all expectations."

The law will go into effect June 29.

"It will not be legal to possess or to grow your own until June 29th or later," Regulation and Licensing Superintendent Linda Trujillo said.

Commercial sales will begin no sooner than April 1, 2022, and the issuance of licenses to conduct commercial cannabis activity will begin no later than Jan. 1, 2022.

Under the law, adults 21 and older can buy and possess up to 2 ounces of cannabis or 16 ounces of cannabis extract, or up to 800 milligrams of edible cannabis.

The governor, however, won't be partaking, at least not immediately.

"I just don't really engage," she said. "I have no reason not to when it's ready to go, but I have no plans to rush out and do so. ... I probably will just stay the course and look for endorphins in other places. But no opposition at all from this governor."

Several Democratic lawmakers attended the ceremony and touted legalization.

"It's not the perfect bill, and the fact that we got a piece of legislation across the line is what had to happen," Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth said. "What's important to me is that we have in place a structure."

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.