New Mexico lawmakers will take another stab at legalizing recreational marijuana during what is expected to be a brief but fast-paced special session that will begin Tuesday.
Marijuana won’t be the only issue on the agenda.
Lawmakers also will consider expanding the Local Economic Development Act, according to the office of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who announced Friday she will call the New Mexico Legislature into a special session March 30 “to take up a pair of economic and job creation items that were left unfinished in the 60-day session.”
While lawmakers will be taking up two issues, the attention likely will be on the effort to legalize cannabis for adult use, which fizzled in the final days of the 60-day legislative session that ended a week ago. Legalizing recreational marijuana, one of the governor’s legislative priorities, also failed to gain traction last year.
“I am grateful to those legislative leaders and members who have expressed enthusiasm about returning to the people’s work so soon after a challenging 60-day session,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement.
“The unique circumstances of the session, with public health safeguards in place, in my view prevented the measures on my call from crossing the finish line,” she added. “While I applaud the Legislature and staff for their incredible perseverance and productivity during the 60-day in the face of these challenges, we must and we will forge ahead and finish the job on these initiatives together for the good of the people and future of our great state.”
The timing of the special session during Holy Week has sparked criticism from Republican leaders in both chambers.
“Once again, the governor is sacrificing the best interests of New Mexicans to accommodate the special interests of her big donors,” Republican leaders in the state Senate said in a joint statement.
“While she waited months to call a special session to address the COVID crisis, she has now announced a special session on marijuana less than a week after the Legislature adjourned,” the statement continued.
They also said marijuana legalization didn’t warrant a special session that would cost New Mexico taxpayers about $50,000 a day.
“Adding further insult to injury,” they said, “the governor has scheduled the special session during Holy Week exactly one year after she shuttered churches on the eve of Easter Sunday. This snub against New Mexicans of faith, including many Legislators, is disrespectful and inexcusable.”
Some people have dubbed the special session “Holy Weed week.”
The special session might be over before Good Friday.
“With the Legislature’s diligent work we hope to conclude the special session within just a couple days — it could be as short as one day,” the governor’s press secretary, Nora Meyers Sackett, wrote in an email.
While Republicans decried the special session, others hailed the move.
House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said in a statement that “the upcoming special session will get legislation across the finish line that builds on the previous 60 days and helps secure a diverse economic future for all. Our work is not done.”
The Drug Policy Alliance, which has been involved in negotiations, said, “New Mexicans may not have to wait much longer to reap the benefits and justice cannabis legalization will provide.”
“We have been working around the clock to ensure that the racial justice and equity provisions, public health priorities, and medical cannabis patient protections will be included in the special session cannabis legalization package,” Emily Kaltenbach, a state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement. “New Mexicans are ready to see marijuana legalization become a reality in the state, but they have made it clear that repairing the damage done by the drug war is non-negotiable.”
Sen. Cliff Pirtle, a Roswell Republican, announced Friday he had introduced “compromise cannabis legalization bill” ahead of the session.
“This bill is the only piece of legislation with bipartisan support,” he said in a statement.
The Governor’s Office said lawmakers on both sides of the aisle “approached a balanced compromise measure” in the final hours of the session that ended last week.
“With general across-the-aisle agreement on the importance of the legalization initiative, the governor intends to see through final passage of this potentially significant economic driver, which is estimated to create over 11,000 jobs, and ensure New Mexico is not left behind as more and more states adopt adult-use cannabis legalization,” a news release stated.
The effort to expand the LEDA program also is considered a move to boost economic development.
The initiative is designed to draw big job-creating projects to New Mexico.
“The bill would allow a portion of some state and local gross receipts tax and compensating revenue from the construction of large projects (more than $350 million) to be placed into the LEDA fund to help with recruitment of those large projects and to replenish the assistance for smaller projects,” the Governor’s Office said.
Bruce Krasnow, a spokesman for the state Economic Development Department, said the bill received committee approval but never made it to the floor because time ran out.
“Basically, we are seeing more and more inquiries from large job-creating companies interested in relocating or expanding operations in New Mexico and this will give us another tool to compete with bigger, wealthier states for these jobs,” he wrote in an email. “We think is a bold initiative that can change the economic development landscape for years to come.”