Legislators advance bill aimed at allowing recreational pot

New Mexico

In this June 11, 2019, file photo, store manager Ruby Amsden, left, attends to medical marijuana customer and retired nurse Jan Stewart, who uses cannabis to relieve pain associated with her recovery from bone cancer and help with sleeping, at the Minerva medical cannabis dispensary in Santa Fe, N.M. An advisory board is recommending that New Mexico clear the way for licensed medical marijuana producers to grow more plants. The board during a meeting Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, voted in favor of a petition that sought to significantly increase the current plant count limit. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee, File)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Legislators advanced a proposal Monday to legalize recreational marijuana across New Mexico and lift the state’s tight restrictions on production for its medical marijuana program.

After more than six hours of testimony and deliberations, a legislative committee on health issues endorsed one Democrat-backed House bill and sidelined a second in efforts to set up a taxed and regulated marketplace for broad cannabis sales.

The two-day hearing pushed to the forefront an initiative that would subsidize medical marijuana for the poor and do away with current limits on the number of plants each licensed producer can can grow.

In all, four legislative proposals have been filed that would throw open the doors to widespread marijuana sales and use — 14 years after New Mexico established a medical marijuana program involving a variety of medical conditions, from cancer to post-traumatic stress. One proposal was filed as identical bills in the Senate and House.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham campaigned in 2018 on efforts to launch a recreational marijuana marketplace to create new jobs and diversify an economy that is tethered closely to oil and natural gas production. Several prominent opponents of legalization lost state Senate elections in 2020, boosting prospects for broad cannabis reforms.

Democratic state Rep. Andrea Romero of Santa Fe pitched the bill that advanced Monday that would authorize statewide sales of cannabis to adults 21 and older with some local discretion over taxes and possible limitations on where and when pot is sold. It won endorsement on a 7-4 committee vote with Democrats in support, and moves next to a tax policy committee for vetting before a possible House floor vote and Senate consideration.

“This gives us a proactive opportunity to respond to the harms of the drug war,” Romero told the panel of legislators. “First and foremost this bill protects medical patients. … We want to ensure an adequate supply for them.”

Romero’s bill — co-sponsored by Albuquerque Democratic Reps. Javier Martínez and Deborah Armstrong — would waive current taxes on medical marijuana and add a state excise tax of 9% on recreational cannabis sales. Local governments could add an additional 4% tax.

One-fifth of the state tax revenues from cannabis would be set aside to underwrite sales to medical cannabis patients who can’t afford the drug. About one-third of revenues would go toward grants that reinvest in communities that have been disproportionately affected by criminalization of drugs and to fund substance abuse prevention programs and marijuana abstinence education for youths.

Other revenues would be channeled to the state general fund.

A bill from state Democratic state Rep. Tara Lujan of Santa Fe would maintain some state restrictions on how much cannabis can be grown by licensed producers. Proponents of the approach say it would guard against a potential price collapse that might consolidate the cannabis industry in the hands of a few large-scale industrial growers. That bill was set aside Monday in the House, while a Senate version remains under consideration.

Republicans in the legislative minority are expressing mixed opinions on whether or how to proceed with a recreational marijuana marketplace.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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