The New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program has been a topic of many headlines across the state and nationally for several months now. In addition to headlines of increasing financial profits from within the medical cannabis program, there was news about program growth and how the legalization of recreational cannabis could boost an underfunded state budget.

Fundamental to this discussion are the interests of the more than 30,000 New Mexicans who benefit from medical cannabis under the 21 health conditions classified by the state Department Of Health as being eligible for the medical cannabis program. Most of them are also New Mexico voters.

New Mexico’s medical cannabis history started in 1978. Lynn Pierson, a 26-year-old cancer patient, brought the value of medical cannabis to the New Mexico Legislature. After public hearings the Legislature enacted House Bill 329, the nation’s first law recognizing the medical value of cannabis.

Later renamed The Lynn Pierson Marijuana & Research Act, the legislation set forth a program that had more than 250 New Mexicans receiving medical cannabis through The University of New Mexico until 1986. Federal opposition and state bureaucratic opposition developed, thus ending the program. Then in the early 2000s, Erin Armstrong, a medical cannabis advocate who suffered from thyroid cancer, began to lobby for a medical cannabis law. Armstrong, a Santa Fe High and University of New Mexico grad, spent three years tirelessly advocating for the medical cannabis program we have today. The Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act of 2007 passed under Gov. Bill Richardson with leadership in the Legislature by Democratic Sen. Cisco McSorley.

New Mexico’s economy continues to be one of the slowest-growing in the country. The state faces a budget shortfall in 2016, which reveals too great a dependence on the federal government and oil revenues. Conservative estimates based on the legalization of recreational cannabis and increased sales taxes in neighboring states indicate that recurring revenues in New Mexico could be in the range of $75 million to $100 million annually. Colorado cannabis tax revenues now greatly exceed original estimates of $70 million per year. Recreational marijuana isn’t the only possible revenue-producer. Canada has had industrial hemp since 1998, and farmers there have reported net profits of $200 to $250 per acre. Most Canadian hemp is exported to the United States.

Three of the most crucial budget demands upon the state are public schools, Medicaid and higher education. Providing funding for these invaluable programs in our state could be achieved with the legalization of recreational cannabis and industrial hemp (better use of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal also is essential).

Here’s one more place to spend additional state revenues. New Mexico should legalize recreational cannabis and industrial hemp to first and foremost start paying state legislators. A hybrid state Legislature could meet most of the year and pay legislators as full-time employees. They can serve the constituents well because of their extended time in office and ability to devote more time to each issue.

New Mexico has been providing medical cannabis to patients in the state since 1978. Now it’s time for New Mexico to return as the leader and pioneer in the sciences of medical cannabis and recreational cannabis. Through legalization and proper regulation, New Mexico can be a new leader among states.

Jason Barker is a medical cannabis patient and organizer with the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act Patients Coalition of New Mexico.