Hopefully you were prepared for this. House Bill 356 died abandoned and alone before the Senate Finance Committee last week. It was the closest New Mexico has ever come to legalizing recreational cannabis. It seemed a painful and undignified death.
The bill would have made it legal for adults over 21 to possess up to an ounce of cannabis as long as they had a receipt proving it was purchased from a legal source. We would have been the 11th state to legalize the maligned plant. It would have protected employers who wished to maintain a drug-free workplace and—most importantly—would have created a system of state-run recreational marijuana producers and retailers. The House approved the bill earlier this month—an unprecedented step in a long history of attempts to legalize. It also passed through its first assigned Senate committee, but fizzled soon after.
You might have already noticed it while talking to your peers: No one's crying over the loss. Lord knows I hate criticizing our honored government, but the idea of a New Mexico state-run recreational cannabis industry is enough to paint abject terror onto the face of every voter I've spoken to about the subject. An industry pal of mine crossed herself and whispered a prayer in what I mistook at the time for mock concern. I first read about changes made to the bill while riding an elevator a few weeks back. I accidentally laughed in shock despite myself. The other passengers glanced over nervously.
Those changes were the result of a bipartisan “compromise” that seemed designed to make the bill an untouchable and unlovable piece of trash. It was made to align more with Senate Bill 577, which had already been tabled. The original version of HB 356 would have made it legal to possess up to two ounces (sans receipt), left room for protection of users and—most importantly—did not include a state-run retail system.
On the final day of the legislative session, the Associated Press quoted Sen. John Sapien saying he thought the bill was dead. Sen. John Arthur Smith, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, reportedly told the Albuquerque Journal that there wouldn't have been enough votes to pass it out of his panel and that one of the bill's sponsors had asked him to ignore it if that were the case.
Sapien reportedly said some private companies and medical marijuana providers were concerned about the bill's final wording. No kidding.
It's like “Dancing With the Stars,” but with much less attractive people. No, dear reader, that spontaneous wrinkle in your nose isn't a sign of an oncoming stroke. You probably smell a rat.
Last month, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the federal agency was looking into “possible alternative approaches” to regulating CBD products. During a National Association of State Departments of Agriculture conference, Gottlieb reportedly told those gathered that he recognized the need for clear regulations in the wake of President Donald Trump signing the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp and removed it from the list of scheduled substances.
The new bill seemed to be legalizing hemp-derived CBD, but the FDA quickly came out to say that since CBD was the active ingredient of the administration-
“We’re planning to seek broad public input on this pathway, including information on the science and safety behind CBD. But we know that this process could take time,” Gottlieb said. “So we’re also interested in hearing from stakeholders and talking to Congress on possible alternative approaches to make sure that we have an appropriately efficient and predictable regulatory framework for regulating CBD products.”
Still, he also pointed out that until that framework was in place, he said the agency would continue acting against companies that make unsubstantiated claims about their CBD products or engage in interstate commerce.
The next day he told the House Appropriations Committee that the FDA would begin holding public hearings on the subject in April. He told the committee that he was dedicated to straightening out the issue. “You have my commitment I'm focused on this one,” he said.
But earlier this month, Gottlieb dropped the shocking news that he would be resigning from the FDA in April. It is unclear if he will still be in the position when the hearings begin and what his absence could mean for the proceedings.
It's also unclear who will be taking his place and whether they will continue to champion a resolution.
If you haven't noticed, I'm a proponent of arming yourself with scientifically researched data in the new territory of cannabis medicine. As a patient, knowing how your medicine works is crucial. As an activist, knowing your facts are based on solid data is just as crucial. Whether marijuana advocates like myself want to admit it or not, unsupported and false claims of efficacy can be far more harmful to the movement than false claims of harm.
This Sunday, March 24, Weekly Alibi is sponsoring the 2019 New Mexico Medical Cannabis Conference. From 9:30am to 5pm, attendees will hear from medical experts in the field who will cover a wide range of subjects—from the entourage effect to selecting proper cannabis products. Keynote speaker Tiffany Bowden will discuss intentional misinformation campaigns that have been waged against cannabis in “Rebranding the War on Drugs.” Tickets start at $45.