At a glance, corporate titan Kim Rael seemed like an unlikely convert to the cannabis industry.
Rael, 55, was in high school in Raton when occupants of the White House made recreational drugs their target.
In her own words, Rael was “the classic Nancy Reagan just-say-no person.”
After college at Harvard, Rael went to work for then-U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman. She moved from government to jobs in the financial and technology sectors.
Then she pivoted to what she calls “the wellness industry.”
In plainer terms, Rael is president and CEO of Azuca, a 3-year-old company whose technology made it possible for edible cannabis to go directly into the bloodstream.
Rael said traditional edible forms of cannabis took 45 to 90 minutes before a user felt the effects.
“Our edibles kick in in five to 15 minutes,” she said. “Traditional edibles are like dial-up internet. Our edibles are like broadband.”
The benefits, in her view, are the consumer ingests the appropriate dose and reaps the reward of pain relief, lessened anxiety or a good night’s sleep.
Rael is a well-known figure in state politics as vice president of the University of New Mexico Board of Regents. The governor appoints regents, who must be confirmed by the state Senate.
Now Rael is entering a different realm of politicking. Through a public relations company, she offers herself as a spokeswoman for legalizing recreational cannabis in New Mexico.
Her advocacy demonstrates the biggest difference between the Reagan years and the present. Recreational cannabis is a legal business in 15 states, and people from all political parties who have a piece of the action want to expand the market.
Rael actually is advocating for a recreational cannabis bill that New Mexico Democrats have not yet introduced. Rep. Javier Martinez said the bill should be ready within days.
“It would allow for edible cannabis within certain metrics,” said Martinez, D-Albuquerque.
He and others in the liberal wing of the Democratic caucus have spent five years trying to legalize recreational cannabis. Their efforts failed.
Republican lawmakers, assisted by moderate and conservative Democrats, blocked measures to either legalize recreational marijuana or let voters decide the issue in a referendum.
This might be the year the tide shifts based on a couple of factors.
Some of the most conservative Democratic state senators were defeated in last year’s primary election. Their departure improves chances of a cannabis bill clearing the Legislature.
Beyond that, neighboring Arizona — traditionally a far more conservative state than New Mexico — legalized recreational cannabis in November. The winning margin in a public vote was 60-40.
Arizona began selling recreational cannabis this week, only 80 days after the election. The fast start was possible because Arizona, like New Mexico, has a medical marijuana industry in place.
Martinez said public opinion is on his side of the issue in New Mexico, too.
“I’ve kind of learned to be patient and not count my chickens before they’re hatched, but this is as good a time as I’ve seen,” he said.
He knows edible marijuana could be one of the reasons his forthcoming bill will be opposed.
A fellow Democrat, the late Rep. Bill Pratt, once amended a bill by Martinez to prohibit sugar in edible cannabis. Pratt withdrew his objection after other lawmakers said consumers choosing not to smoke cannabis would appreciate something palatable.
Keeping edible cannabis away from children is a legitimate worry. Rael said producers can do their part with child-resistant packaging and level-headed marketing.
Rael isn’t a lobbyist, but says she’s ready to speak personally to legislators who have questions about the job and tax benefits of cannabis.
She is used to political discourse. Her husband, Lawrence, was a Democratic candidate for governor in 2014 and a candidate for lieutenant governor in 2010.
Advocates for cannabis legalization rarely talk about the costs, financial or social, associated with their plan.
Children ingesting cannabis contained in chocolate or gummy candy is but one concern.
Shutting down the black market is another worry. Dealers who sell marijuana without the tax markup have created migraines for California cops and industry regulators.
And in New Mexico, a state with a chronic problem of drunken drivers, Republican lawmakers are sure to argue against legalizing another intoxicant.
Cannabis wouldn’t be a panacea — not for the state budget or anything else. Most politicians know it.
They also know the war on drugs never stopped marijuana dealers. New Mexico by mid-March just might catch up with those liberals in Arizona.