Lawmakers on a state House committee Monday advanced a cannabis legalization bill that would put no cap on commercial production and would send some of the tax revenue generated by the measure to communities hit hardest by drug addiction and drug-related crimes.

Those provisions set House Bill 12 apart from a competing measure, House Bill 17. The House Health and Human Services Committee voted in favor of HB 12 after more than six hours of debate on the two measures in two separate sessions.

Advocates for both bills said initial estimates suggest gross receipts tax revenue on recreational cannabis could bring between $50 million and $100 million per year. HB 12 sets the tax rate at 13 percent and allows local governments to add their own gross receipts tax.

“Cannabis is not new to our communities, it is not new to New Mexico,” said state Rep. Andrea Romero of Santa Fe, one of three House Democrats sponsoring HB 12.

She and other advocates for legalizing recreational cannabis for adults 21 and over said the effort would help end illicit markets and provide much-needed revenue for the state.

Both bills would create an oversight division to develop licensing criteria and procedures for growers and sellers.

Lawmakers are cautiously moving forward with a cannabis legalization initiative as similar efforts are growing nationwide, even as it remains a crime under federal law to possess or use marijuana. Arizona residents recently voted to approve marijuana legalization.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, has voiced her support for cannabis legalization and backed an unsuccessful effort in 2020.

Given most Democrats in the Legislature — who hold a wide majority in the House and Senate — support the effort, it’s likely to become law this year.

Under HB 12, the law would take effect in January 2022, which is when the state could begin issuing annual licenses for commercial production and sales. The law would allow people 21 and over to use or grow their own cannabis, though they could not be in possession of more than 2 ounces of cannabis or 16 grams of a cannabis extract outside their homes.

People would not be able to smoke cannabis in public — other than in designated areas, such as a cannabis production or distribution facility.

The bill requires public schools to devise a plan to educate middle and high school students on the dangers of using cannabis.

It also provides employer protections, allowing companies to set their own rules regarding workers’ use of cannabis, including “adverse” actions against employees who use or possess cannabis in the workplace.

The biggest difference between the two House proposals is how much cannabis could be produced in the state. HB 12 has no production cap in place. Advocates say that is necessary to prevent a black market from growing.

“Undersupply can fuel the illicit market,” said Emily Kaltenbach, senior state director of the national nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance, which supports HB 12. “People will go to that market if they can’t find enough supplies.”

But creating an unlimited supply can cause other problems, argued Ben Lewinger, executive director of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, which supports HB 17. That measure would limit the number of cannabis licenses the state could issue.

He told lawmakers that Oregon, which legalized recreational cannabis in 2015, had to pass new laws to limit production after growers produced an overabundant supply.

“Not having any mechanism to conduct production management is, potentially, the most dangerous thing to having a competitive market in this state,” Lewinger said.

Romero said such concerns are “artificial.”

The Health and Human Services Committee voted 7-4 along party lines, with Democrats supporting it, to move HB 12 on to the House Taxation and Revenue Committee for consideration.

Meanwhile, three Senate bills that would legalize recreational cannabis are awaiting an initial hearing in the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee.

General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

(8) comments

Thomas Franks

Loved your great humorous comments, Mr. Johnson! We can now truly be the "high" desert!

Mike Johnson

Wow! Now NM can become the Saudi Arabia of pot. What a deal!

Craig Meyer

Don't really understand this comment Mike. Marijuana is a plant. It can grow anywhere given adequate water. No place is going to become the Saudi Arabia of pot and the desert Southwest in particular cannot. Water is once again the limiting factor here.

Mike Johnson

My comment was based on the commodity nature of dope, yes it is a plant, but with thousands of sources and more coming everyday it seems, it is but a commodity, like oil. My impression by reading the bill was that the authors (including that upstanding, outstanding, and youth role model for business and economics, Andrea Romero.....) [lol] seem to want to make NM the dominant producer, as there are no production limits and it is just open season for anyone and everyone to grow it wherever they have a little water. NM could then set the price of this commodity, dominate the market, and flood the US with cheap dope. You do mention one sobering fact, water is very scarce, but remember these kind of people are probably not sober much of the time. As #ResistRomero says so eloquently,“Cannabis is not new to our communities, it is not new to New Mexico,” . So see, it is in our culture and our blood already......but I do agree with your economic reasoning.....[beam]

Richard Irell

I’m pretty sure that as MJ is illegal at the federal level, interstate transportation would be illegal as well.

Mike Johnson

Mr. Irell, you do realize how much dope comes into NM from Colorado, don't you? No one gets arrested for that.

Richard Irell

Mass exportation from big growers in NM would certainly attract the attention of the feds.

Mike Johnson

Maybe today Mr. Irell, but a new sheriff is in the White House who may just look the other way with some XOs focused on calling off the narcs and DEA......

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