The House has been working overtime to make a fool out of me. I've been dooming and glooming all over my friends' legalization dreams, but lawmakers are quickly moving to prove me wrong.
Last week HB 356, the Cannabis Regulation Act, was passed by the New Mexico House in a 36 to 34 vote after receiving some major alterations that made it appear more like another bill, SB 577 (which was tabled). Democratic Rep. Javíer Martínez called the bipartisan result a “compromise bill.”
If the version that passed makes it to law, it will make it legal for anyone over the age of 21 to possess up to one ounce of cannabis as long as they have the sales receipt—the original version allowed for up to two ounces and didn't include the receipt stipulation. Another big change is the creation of a system of state-run recreational shops. The bill also protects employers who wish to maintain a drug-free workplace from discrimination claims—a concern that many business owners in the community have voiced. A tax of around 17 percent would be applied to all recreational sales.
This is a very different bill from the one that was introduced, and it isn't clear if there will be more changes over the next week as we reach the end of the legislative session. HB 356 is now on its way to the Senate. If approved there, the last hurdle will be the governor's desk. If it passes, New Mexico will become the 11th state to legalize marijuana.
(You might notice that I'm keeping my judgments to myself this time. I'm terrified I might jinx something. I knocked on every wooden surface I came across this morning.)
On the flipside, the more conservative SB 323 just passed in the Senate with flying colors—on a vote of 30 to 8. If passed into law, the bill will decrease penalties for the possession of up to a half-ounce of marijuana to a penalty assessment misdemeanor—which is not considered a criminal conviction—and a fine of $50. Penalties increase after the first half-ounce and anything over eight ounces goes back to being a felony. It's unclear if the House will take up the bill or not.
According to NM Political Report, a letter went out last week declaring the enactment of an emergency rule change increasing the number of plants a producer is allowed to grow to 2,500. The change is only temporary until the Department of Health “promulgates, within 180 days, a formal rule establishing plant count.”
In November, then-District Judge David Thomson of Santa Fe ruled that the 450-plant limit imposed on licensed producers did not support a statute requiring the DOH to provide an “adequate supply” of cannabis to patients enrolled in the program. Judge Thomson said the limit was arbitrary and not based on research. The order gave the department until March 1 to come up with a plant limit that was supported by some sort of science before the limits were made invalid. The current announcement, then, is just a tactic being utilized by the department to buy more time while they figure out a plan. Otherwise, there'd be no limit and the state would be overrun with plants.
Secretary of Public Health Kathyleen Kunkel reportedly requested the change in a letter to the state’s Commission of Public Records, writing, “In absence of an emergency rule limiting supply, and until subsequent permanent rules are promulgated and in place, [Licensed Non-Profit Producers] would have unfettered authority to grow and produce cannabis and cannabis-related products.”
As of last Friday, more than a quarter of the state's producers—12 of 35—had reportedly applied to increase their plant counts to 2,500. That alone will be a giant increase in the number of plants across the state, but it's unlikely too many more producers will be applying. Not everyone has the money, space or manpower to ramp their operations up five fold overnight.
The DOH says it will have a permanent limit in place within six months. It says the decision will be easier to make once reports on producers' current plant counts come in at the end of the first quarter of the fiscal year.
Earlier this month, the House passed two hemp bills—HB 581, which expands hemp production and HB 7, which creates “Centers of Excellence” at New Mexico institutions of higher education. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham's office released a statement supporting the bills' passage.
The first bill would hand regulation duties over to the Department of Agriculture, who would control licensing for the cultivation, testing and research of hemp products. The Environment Department would be in charge of licensing and regulating the manufacture and sale of hemp products made for human consumption.
The second bill would set up centers at four New Mexico colleges and universities that would promote innovation in areas related to hemp production and business. Research and training will happen at these facilities with the hope of making New Mexico a magnet for hemp entrepreneurs.
“Centers of Excellence will truly put New Mexico colleges on the map not only nationally but worldwide,” said Lujan Grisham. “This bill will attract talented researchers and students and boost opportunity for our young adults seeking fruitful, exciting careers in their home state.”
Both bills are on their way to the Senate and seem to be doing well.