A working group tasked with studying proposals to legalize recreational marijuana in New Mexico met for the first time Wednesday, laying out its goals and timeline leading up to the next legislative session.
The Cannabis Legalization Working Group — comprising lawmakers, Cabinet secretaries, members of the medical marijuana industry and others — plans to deliver a final report to the governor and legislators in November that could be used to craft a new bill.
“The goal of the final report is going to be the framework for the legislation,” Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis, who is leading the working group, said after the meeting at the governor’s office.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has said she will make the legalization of adult use of cannabis a priority for next year’s 30-day session of the Legislature. A bill to legalize recreational cannabis passed in the House earlier this year, but it did not clear the Senate, where such legislation repeatedly has died at the hands of more conservative members of both political parties.
State Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, who sponsored previous marijuana legislation in the Senate, said Wednesday he had not decided whether he would sponsor a new version. He said the chances of a new bill passing would depend on what’s in it.
“Concerns were brought forth this last session, so even with the work we do with this group at the end of the day, we have to convince the majority that this is the best way forward,” Pirtle said after the working group’s meeting.
A major challenge for any recreational marijuana bill remains the opposition of Republicans and more conservative Democrats in the Senate.
The working group will use House Bill 356, the recreational marijuana legislation from last session, as a starting point to examine key policy questions and how other states have addressed them.
“We’re not starting from scratch,” Davis said.
During a presentation, Davis said each member of the group will be asked to give his or her opinions on key sections of the previous bill, using an online portal. Those comments will be discussed at future meetings, and dissenting opinions will be recorded and included in the final report.
The group also plans to present a report that will be available for public review and comments online.
Eleven states have legalized the adult use of cannabis. Earlier this year, the Illinois legislature passed a bill to legalize recreational use.
Davis called Colorado’s marijuana policy “a good model for us,” adding legalization there has not affected graduation rates and has not increased the incidents of fatal crashes in which drivers tested positive for THC. As a downside, Davis said the black market in Colorado has expanded.
The working group also includes Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque; Environment Secretary James Kenney; Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel; senior economist James Girard of the Taxation and Revenue Department; Matt Baca of the Attorney General’s Office; and Sheriff Kim Stewart of Doña Ana County.