A policy advisory panel assembled by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham recommends expunging marijuana possession convictions in a sweeping report that details how a legal market for recreational cannabis should be developed in New Mexico.
The 16-page report, released Wednesday, outlines policy advice for lawmakers related to everything from labeling and testing recreational marijuana products to enforcing illegal sales, collecting licensing fees and taxes, and implementing a social equity program meant to ameliorate the impact of years of unequal drug enforcement in poorer communities.
Among the proposals, the report urges state lawmakers to expunge convictions for charges of marijuana possession, allow people with previous drug convictions to receive marijuana business licenses and allow small-scale “microbusiness” licenses, similar to microbrewing licenses for craft beer.
Marijuana has been legalized for recreational use in 11 states and the District of Columbia. Unlike most of these states — all but Illinois and Vermont — the push for legal pot in New Mexico isn’t being driven through a citizen ballot initiative; instead, the Democratic governor intends to push the recommendations through the state Legislature.
Pat Davis, the advisory panel’s chairman and a city councilor in Albuquerque, said he and others in the 22-member group “spent a lot of time looking at other states, and what they got right and what they got wrong” to create the road map to a system that safely regulates recreational pot and invests money from the market “in all the things we need to invest in anyway.”
A legal, adult-use market in New Mexico would generate more than 13,000 new jobs, $850 million in annual sales and $100 million in annual revenue for state and local governments, according to the report. The projections are estimates based on an assumption that the recreational market would develop in five years to six times the size of the state’s Medical Cannabis Program — which now serves about 75,000 patients.
Emily Kaltenbach, New Mexico director of the Criminal Justice Reform Strategy for the Drug Policy Alliance and a member of the work group, lauded its recommendations in a statement Wednesday.
Much of the framework mirrored her group’s priorities, she said, “including creating equity in the marketplace, reinvesting back into communities most harmed by prohibition, protecting the medical cannabis program, safeguarding children, and establishing strong consumer protections.”
If lawmakers approve the work group’s plan, marijuana businesses would be charged a 5 percent excise tax, and sales would include a 5.125 percent state gross receipts tax, a 5 percent local excise tax and a local gross receipts tax of 2 percent. That equals a combined average tax rate of 17 percent.
The plan includes a $2.7 million low-income-patient subsidy fund “to assist those who qualify for public assistance” with access to medical cannabis and a $5.1 million annual “law enforcement fund.” It would require growers and retailers to reserve a certain percentage of plants and products for medical patients and to serve medical patients before recreational buyers in the event of a supply shortage.
The recommendations follow months of meetings and a promise from the governor to make legalizing marijuana a priority for her administration in the upcoming legislative session.
Grisham’s group recommends not allowing communities to opt out of the market because, it warns in the report, they could end up becoming “illicit markets overnight.” The report also urges lawmakers not to allow New Mexico residents to grow more than six marijuana plants for personal use because that could present “huge law enforcement challenges.”
The work group’s recommendations come after extensive input from law enforcement organizations that opposed legalizing marijuana.
Other states, such as Michigan, have legalized marijuana through a citizen-led ballot initiative. Michigan allows all state residents to grow up to 12 marijuana plants for personal use without any oversight or state regulation. Marijuana activists and some defense attorneys there have praised the law as a major victory in eliminating what had formerly been probable cause to enter or raid a household over telltale signs of marijuana grows — such as high electricity use, blacked-out windows and an odor of cannabis.
Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, signed legislation in 2007 allowing the medicinal use of marijuana.
A bill to legalize adult-use cannabis cleared the state House earlier this year but did not make it out of the state Senate.
Grisham signed legislation in April decriminalizing recreational weed, and the law went into effect in July — reducing the penalty for possessing up to a half-ounce of cannabis to a $50 fine.
“I want New Mexico’s introduction and management of recreational cannabis to be the envy of the country,” Grisham said in a June statement. “We can and will incorporate lessons learned from other states so that New Mexico provides for a well-regulated industry that, crucially, does not infringe on or harm our expanding medical cannabis program, upon which so many New Mexicans rely.”