State Rep. Javier Martínez said he is “cautiously optimistic” his bill legalizing adult use of recreational cannabis will get to the governor’s desk before the legislative session ends Saturday.
The odds may not be bad. The full Senate plans to vote Friday on a heavily amended version of the measure after it passed what might have been its toughest hurdle, the Senate Judiciary Committee, on a narrow vote early Thursday following hours of debate and revisions by weary lawmakers in a hearing that began late Wednesday night.
In a final move before the vote, committee Chairman Joe Cervantes, a Las Cruces Democrat who does not support the effort, chided Martínez and other sponsors of House Bill 12 for sloppy language and provisions he said conflict with existing state law.
“I don’t believe your bill has been very carefully read,” he said.
As the bill reads, Cervantes said, it would be legal for a parent over 21 to give cannabis to a child. And, he added, the bill says in several sections adults could legally posses “at least” 2 ounces of cannabis outside their home — when instead its authors clearly meant “up to.”
While such a detail may seem minuscule, it could have major implications in enforcing intended restrictions.
Cervantes, like many members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is an attorney.
Martínez, D-Albuquerque, said in an interview Thursday he and co-sponsor Rep. Andrea Romero, a Santa Fe Democrat, would work on “fixes” for the faulty language before bringing HB 12 to the Senate floor.
The bill’s sponsors and supporters took Cervantes’ comments “to heart,” he said, “and we will try to incorporate as much of his feedback as we can.”
HB 12 was one of at least five bills that aimed to create a legal system of production and sales for recreational cannabis. It gained momentum early in the session and was the only one to reach either chamber. It underwent several changes in the process.
Emily Kaltenbach, senior state director of the national nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance, which backs HB 12, said she expects a “handful of amendments” on the Senate floor to further improve the measure.
“That’s the reason we have our Senate Judiciary and House Judiciary committees,” she said. “That’s a place where some of those conflicts that were not caught prior and identified can be fixed.”
Two of the changes the Senate Judiciary Committee approved would put a cap on plant production for the program’s first three years and require an independent organization to conduct product safety testing and certification. The provision would prohibit a licensed producer from obtaining a separate license to serve as a testing site.
Supporters have been eager for some form of cannabis legislation to pass both chambers since the session began in January. HB 12 was the early favorite, largely because of its heavy focus on what proponents called social justice provisions.
Under the bill, some of the tax revenue generated from cannabis sales would fund substance abuse treatment efforts in communities hit hardest by drug use, provide education programs for children and teens, and allow for a review and expungement of criminal cases related to cannabis possession and use.
Martínez told the Senate Judiciary Committee it also would open the door to small growers and sellers, offering business opportunities for minority people throughout the state, and it would allow adults over 21 to grow plants for personal use.
Kaltenbach said those “social issues and equity pieces are driving this legislation.” The bill can “start to repair some of the harm that [cannabis] prohibition has placed on the backs of people of color and invest money into those communities,” she added.
Wednesday’s hearing included a review of Senate Bill 288, sponsored by Republican Sen. Cliff Pirtle of Roswell. He tried to convince lawmakers to back his bill, but Cervantes noted it didn’t have much of a chance so late in the session. The Senate Judiciary Committee was only its second stop in a long legislative process.
“The horses are lined up behind a different bill,” Cervantes said, “the bill that probably has the horses to get beyond the [finish] line.”
HB 12 would task the state Regulation and Licensing Department with most of the program’s oversight.
The department would begin issuing licenses on April 1, 2022, under the current version of the bill. But licensed medical cannabis producers could apply for a recreational-use license and get a head start on new entrepreneurs.
An initial license for production or sales would cost $2,500, while a second or subsequent license to operate at an additional site would cost $1,000.
The Regulation and Licensing Department would monitor cannabis production and use for three years, during which time a cap — not yet announced — would be in place. That cap would be lifted in summer 2025 following a study on the market’s supply and demand.
Lujan Grisham has said she would support a bill legalizing recreational cannabis.
Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for the governor, wrote in an email Thursday the administration will be “following the Senate floor debate closely.”
“But we’re very glad it’s moving forward and very optimistic it will get done in time,” she added.