The legalization of recreational cannabis is facing a tough road ahead this session — even its backers admit that, with Sen. Jerry Ortiz Y Pino giving it a 1 in 3 chance of passing.

Yes, the proposal is not completely dead — yet. A hearing in the Senate Judiciary is scheduled Wednesday, with amendments in Senate Bill 115 designed to appease concerns. The start date for legalization, even if the bill passes this session, has been pushed back from 2021 to 2022, too. With this many questions remaining so close to the end of the session, it could be time to call halt.

Lawmakers should shelve potential legalization this short session and take care of pressing financial matters in the time that remains. Pass the budget, shore up the pension system and approve Public Regulation Commission reform.

Turns out, 30 days — even after a year of a working committee on the topic — might be too short a time to answer all the questions about recreational cannabis use.

At 170-plus pages and growing, the legislation became unwieldy. It doesn’t just set taxes but allocates the money — before one cent has been raised — trying to deal with all aspects of a complex industry as well as answer all objections in one piece of legislation.

This is no way to expand a new industry in New Mexico, especially one that critics believe could only add to social ills our state already faces.

A longer session in 2021 is the time to reassess the approach to how — or if — New Mexico should legalize marijuana for adult recreational use.

In the months ahead, supporters can take apart this overly complicated legislation and write a shorter bill designed to enable legalization. Accompanying that bill would be legislation designed to deal with taxation, past marijuana convictions, rules for agriculture, essential public safety issues, licensing and spending marijuana revenues.

Here’s some advice about spending: Rather than spread the cash to any number of worthy causes, a better way to build support for legalization would be to use marijuana tax revenues to make one big difference. At least in the beginning, most pot revenue should be spent to pay for the state’s broken but recovering behavioral health system, including building and funding treatment centers for addiction.

Another portion should go to help law enforcement buy machines that can test for marijuana or other drugs in saliva and to educate people about the dangers of driving under the influence. Public-safety concerns are real and need to be addressed, preferably with the money raised from taxing marijuana and other revenues associated with the industry.

One important factor to consider is how to protect medical cannabis patients and producers from what likely would become a thriving recreational market. The expansion of the business must be done without damaging people who are sick. That’s why it makes sense to place money aside to help Medicaid patients pay for their medicine. As is clear, potentially legalizing cannabis is complicated.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has promoted the notion of legalizing recreational cannabis as a part of her economic expansion emphasis, a way to transition New Mexico off overdependence on oil and gas and to provide jobs to young people who want to make the cannabis industry their careers.

For that to occur, any legalization has to ensure that an adequate supply of marijuana is available for the new recreational sellers and buyers — and that means expansion of planting and growing facilities well before the plants or products are sold. Legalization without an adequate supply would hurt medical patients and also push some buyers to the black market. Neither is a desired outcome. 

Time is short in this 30-day session. It's time to focus on finances and tackle other complex issues next year during the longer legislative session.

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(1) comment

Tim Long

Should We Have a Public Referendum on the Recreational Cannabis Bill in the November General Election?

With conservative legislators intent on delaying, blocking and postponing the cannabis legalization bill, maybe it's time for a popular vote during the November election. New Mexicans can then determine their future and maybe even send a few politicians home for good. We don't need a repeat of the tactics observed in the U.S. Senate impeachment vote. Legalization will allow the oversight necessary to protect

the public while reestablishing trust in our system of justice, which previous policies have helped to erode.

A rational approach would be to legislate safeguards for public consumption rather than continue their outdated and failed attempts to discourage a common practice that, after tens of thousands of years of useful application, will surely never go away. And kicking the can down the road will just perpetuate an unsatisfactory situation. Regarding the cannabis legalization effort, renowned astrophysicist Carl Sagan. says it best:

"The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world."

Welcome to the discussion.

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