I think this is the part where I came in.
Last week, as reported by my colleague Michael Gerstein, a task force appointed by the governor released a report outlining proposed policies for the legalization of marijuana for adults in New Mexico.
The 16-page report by the 22-member panel urges the Legislature to pass laws that would expunge convictions for marijuana possession, allow those with previous drug convictions to receive marijuana business licenses and allow small-scale “microbusiness” licenses, similar to microbrewing licenses for craft beer. Also in the list of recommended policies are proposals pertaining to labeling and testing recreational marijuana products, enforcing laws against illegal sales, collecting licensing fees and taxes, and other plans.
With Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham actively fighting for it — the first New Mexico governor since Republican Gary Johnson to hold such a view — this state undoubtedly is closer than ever to legalizing cannabis. (But as anyone who knows anything about the Legislature realizes, there are a zillion and one ways for lawmakers to sandbag such proposals. So I’m not taking any bets.)
Whether the recommendations of the panel pass or not, reading Gerstein’s story, just a little more than a month before I retire from what ex-Gov. Susana Martinez’s lawyer Paul Kennedy calls “the journalism racket,” brought back memories from one of my first assignments when I started covering state government in late 2000.
That was when a task force, appointed by Gov. Johnson to study drug-law reforms in the state, released its recommendations at a news conference in Albuquerque.
The task force, headed by retired state District Judge Woody Smith, had a sweeping list of proposed reforms, including legalizing up to an ounce of marijuana; reducing drug-possession charges to a misdemeanor for first- and second-time offenders; a medical marijuana program; expanding the state’s needle-exchange program; allowing those on methadone-treatment programs to take the heroin substitute in doctors’ offices or health clinics; expanding the use of Narcan to treat drug overdoses; and spending more money on “science-based, safety-focused” drug-education and prevention programs in schools and eliminating programs not meeting those standards. Johnson’s panel in general called for a greater emphasis on treatment for drug addicts.
As most old-timers predicted at the time, nearly all of Johnson’s drug-reform package went down in flames during the 2001 Legislature. Not only did socially conservative Republicans buck their governor (who years later would leave the GOP and become a Libertarian), but much of the Democratic leadership, including then-House Speaker Ben Luján, also opposed most of the drug package.
The one major issue to come closest to passing in 2001 was medical marijuana. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives passed their own bills that would have allowed marijuana to be used to treat symptoms of some diseases. However, the two chambers couldn’t agree on the details, so neither bill made it to Johnson’s desk. The Legislature wouldn’t pass a medical marijuana bill until the 2007 session.
But the drug bills made the Legislature even more of a circus than usual that year.
Drum circles outside the Roundhouse became common. At a hearing concerning legalizing industrial hemp (another idea that didn’t become a reality for years), a group of pro-cannabis activists broke into applause, and one man began chanting “Grow hemp, grow hemp” when the conservative House Agriculture and Water Resources Committee voted to recommend the bill.
Former Sen. Roman Maes, D-Santa Fe, who was a strong proponent of medical marijuana, talked to me during the session about a rally during the first week of that session. “They were dancing in front of the Legislature, openly smoking marijuana. That didn’t help matters at all.”
The work of Johnson’s group and Lujan Grisham’s group of course was different. The latest group focused on creating a framework for legalizing the drug. But the two reports, one from 2000 and one from 2019, gave me a sense of symmetry as I prepare to leave the fray.
I suspect there might be a few drum circles and overenthusiastic activists at the next Legislature. Hope the new crop of reporters have as much fun covering it as I did.