While touting the successes lawmakers pulled off during an unprecedented 60-day legislative session in the shadow of a deadly pandemic, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Saturday she’s calling them back in two weeks to take care of unfinished business: legalizing recreational marijuana.
“We have an incredible framework ready to go for adult-use cannabis,” the governor said during a news conference with Democratic leaders at the conclusion of the session.
“And given the circumstances where you have to come together and really look at that couldn’t get done in time for both chambers who want to be able to vote on adult use, so we’re going to give them that opportunity,” she added.
Lujan Grisham said her expectation and hope is lawmakers will reconvene “on or about March 31.”
“When you have a bipartisan effort working on a framework to get this done, it makes no sense to make New Mexicans wait when we’ve got it ready to go,” she said.
The governor didn’t rule out the possibility other measures would be considered at the special session, calling it “premature” to say nothing else would be on the agenda.
“But the purpose is not to extend a 60-day session,” she said. “That would be inappropriate.”
Though a push to legalize recreational marijuana fizzled in the final days of the session, the governor and other Democratic leaders lauded the accomplishments a new and more progressive group of lawmakers helped propel, including the repeal of a decades-old law that criminalizes abortion and asking voters to allow the state to tap into a permanent fund to help pay for prekindergarten and K-12 programs. Both efforts had stalled in the past by more moderate Democrats whose conservative-leaning stances made them a target and contributed to their ouster in the last election.
“No question, our seven amazing Democratic freshmen ran on a platform of repealing the abortion bill, the [Land Grant] Permanent Fund and legalization of cannabis, and so two of the three are done [and] the third is coming,” said Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, a Santa Fe Democrat. “There is no question in our chamber, the voters spoke, and the members that were elected delivered what the voters asked them to do.”
One of the freshmen, Sen. Leo Jaramillo, D-Española, said the group of new lawmakers has “not forgotten to help the New Mexicans who have supported us.”
“We recognize forward thinking and action were required to address the pandemic, unemployment, poverty and human rights because our job was to give a voice to those who have felt in the past that their voice was never heard,” he said.
The measures passed by legislators reflect that “New Mexicans are very clear about their priorities,” the governor said.
“This is a session about our recovery, our health and our future, and we expect every one of our policymakers to make that happen,” she said. “No question that that’s changing about where our focuses are in the state of New Mexico.”
Lujan Grisham, who kicked off the news conference by “celebrating that we are No. 1 in the nation for vaccines,” listed in rapid fire what she called the “incredible efforts” of lawmakers during the session.
“Economic relief — nearly a billion dollars before the American Rescue Plan. Done,” she said, referring to a series of pandemic relief bills passed at the beginning of the session, including $200 million in grants for businesses.
“I will tell you that New Mexico is doing far better than the vast majority of states by focusing our efforts, our resources and our energy in making sure that economic security for businesses, individuals and workers is made as whole as we can.”
The governor also said she was “incredibly proud” of the alcohol reform passed by lawmakers. The legislation permits home delivery and allows restaurateurs to purchase new liquor licenses more affordably. It also would ban the sale of mini liquor bottles, part of an effort to deal with drunken driving and other alcohol-related problems in the state.
“It is a monumental effort. Done,” Lujan Grisham said.
The proposed constitutional amendment to tap the permanent fund a “poquito pinch” reflects “decades’ worth of work by both the House and the Senate to create the kind of stability and reliability in funding that is cradle-to-career education in this state,” she added.
Lujan Grisham thanked both chambers for “giving us a lift up” in both the Opportunity Scholarship and the lottery scholarship.
“Environmental protection. The patient affordability fund. Done. Done,” she said. “You name a priority area, and I can tell you that we have incredible leadership and incredible success in the Legislature this legislative session.”
Legalizing recreational marijuana was among the governor’s legislative priorities, and she said she expects it to happen soon.
“I feel very confident that we’re going to be able to announce adult-use cannabis in the very near future in New Mexico,” she said.
While the pandemic created an “unprecedented situation,” House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said Democrats didn’t want to let the coronavirus “deter us from doing the work that was critically needed by the people of New Mexico.”
“Folks said, ‘Let’s postpone this session. There’s nothing we need to do now that can’t be done later,’ ” he said. “We saw that that was not the right view when early on in the session we passed Senate and House bills to deliver hundreds of millions of dollars in direct support to New Mexico small businesses and in tax relief to working people.”
Egolf said lawmakers passed what he believes is the largest expansion of the Working Families Tax Credit and the Low Income Comprehensive Tax Rebate in the state’s history.
“Those are our two most effective poverty-reduction policies in our tax code,” he said. “They have lifted thousands of New Mexicans out of poverty.”
With the exception of recreational marijuana, Wirth said he was able to check off “a whole bunch of things” from a list of items he has wanted to accomplish for a few years.
“Well, guess what?” he said. “There’s only one thing left that is not checked off, and we’re going to do it.”
Wirth said a deal on cannabis was close. He defended his decision to not put the matter up for debate Friday night.
“When you have a Republican member with a shopping cart full of amendments and a lot of Red Bulls right next door,” he said, referring to Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, “and you have a House that’s stuck on three-hour concurrences, there was no way it was ready. … I really commend the governor for bringing us back. Let’s take a breath, and let’s get this right.”