The Roundhouse wrapped up the 2017 legislative session last Saturday. This year was particularly exciting for those of us in the cannabis community. Not only for the number of bills aimed at positive policy reform, but also for the huge support shown in the community at large and especially in the local media, where a distinct turn in public opinion has become apparent.
I have to warn you: There isn't much good news when it comes to the actual legislation. But keep in mind that despite our lawmakers' inability to tailor policy to our needs and wishes, the public outcry against the current state of cannabis laws in New Mexico was loud enough to make it into every corner of local media this year, and our voices can't be ignored forever.
Legalization Bill Goes Belly-Up
At the end of February, following more than two hours of debate, House Bill 89—which would have legalized the recreational use of cannabis for adults over the age of 21—was soundly voted down 9-1 by the House Business and Industry Committee.
Let's be honest, here. Everyone knew the bill would fail once it reached Gov. Susana Martinez—who would have likely exercised her power to veto the bill if it had been approved—but to see it devastated before it even crossed her desk is disheartening, to say the least. I am especially grossed out by our lawmakers' ability to show such a bipartisan distaste for public opinion.
Their reasons for shooting it down: They weren't convinced legalization would help to curb illegal trafficking, they were concerned about drug use amongst young people (despite the fact that the proposed bill specified that the law was for adults over 21) and they were worried about the recently clarified anti-cannabis stance taken by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
I bet they're feeling pretty dumb about it right now, though.
Get this: Sessions told local, state and federal law enforcement officials in Richmond, Va. last Wednesday that “the Cole Memorandum set up some policies under President Obama’s Department of Justice about how cases should be selected in those states and what would be appropriate for federal prosecution, much of which I think is valid.” (The Cole Memorandum protects states where cannabis has been legalized from prosecution as long as they are following an effective regulation policy.)
I wonder if those weaklings in the Roundhouse are moping yet about missing out on a multi-million dollar industry because they were afraid of the Trump bogey man. (I should probably point out that I, too, was afraid of the bogeyman—proven by an article I wrote earlier this month. Let's never speak of it again.)
Martinez Vetoes Hemp Bill
Without even having the decency to give any reason for the move, Gov. Martinez vetoed House Bill 144, which would have legalized state-regulated industrial hemp. The bill would have authorized the state Department of Agriculture to oversee the production of hemp plants for research purposes. Hemp is the name given to cannabis plants cultivated to have low-THC yields for use in industrial materials like fibers, textiles, insulation materials and animal food. State Democrats have rejected the governor's veto, though, saying it was invalid. They say the governor is legally obligated to explain her reasons behind the veto within a specific time period. She failed to do so. What happens next is anyone's guess, since this is something that's never happened before. If the matter isn't resolved, it will be taken before the New Mexico Supreme Court.
No Luck with Decriminalization
SB 258, sponsored by Senator Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, which woud have decriminalized cannabis possession, failed to pass. If it had passed, possession of less than a half ounce of cannabis or drug paraphernalia would have resulted in a (non-criminal) penalty assessment with a fine of $50. I guess we don't mind keeping people locked in cages for the use of a harmless plant that millions of people partake in daily. According to a forecast the New Mexico Sentencing Commission released last summer, the state’s inmate population will rise from 7,518 in fiscal year 2016 to 7,663 by fiscal year 2018. Meanwhile, the rest of the country is seeing a trend of prison populations decreasing. Ah, progress.
I'd like to be irritated about these miserable legislative results. I really would. But the truth is I already knew none of them would make it. I mean, no one ever said ours was a progressive, forward-looking state that actually cared about its citizens' health and happiness. This is New Mexico, after all.