It's all anyone can talk about, but I still don't want to jinx it. Can you imagine what people would say if it didn't—Ah. Almost said too much.
Senate Bill 115, the “Cannabis Regulation Act,” took its first step toward reality last week when it successfully passed through the Senate Public Affairs Committee in a 4-3 vote. It's not quite the landslide we were hoping for, but it will do. The vote followed party lines, which is concerning.
According to the Albuquerque Journal, opponents are worried about employers' rights to maintain drug-free workplaces, youth access, crime and drugged driving. President and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce Terri Cole said that we need technology that can determine intoxication levels for drivers before we can even begin talking about legalization. “The technology simply doesn’t exist,” he said. “This creates serious challenges.”
Of course, that means he wasn't really looking too hard for answers since a California company announced earlier this month that it would be putting its THC breathalyzer on the market by mid-2020. This isn't a complete surprise either. The company, Hound Labs, announced they were developing the device back in the summer of 2018.
These concerns also conveniently ignore the very obvious reality to anyone living in New Mexico: Illegal cannabis is easy to come by in a state that has already decriminalized possession of the drug. All of these projected issues already exist under the current laws. At this point, legalization is the only way to regulate an untameable black market.
Sen. Jacob Candelaria introduced the bill to the committee. “We know that New Mexicans across the state, from rural to urban centers, are with us on this issue,” he said. “The criminalization of cannabis disproportionately harms and criminalizes young people and people of color, sponsors violence and corruption by those who currently exclusively trade in cannabis in the black market. The current situation, our status quo that relies on a black market outside of the medical program, does nothing to curb youth access to cannabis.”
Under the proposed bill, private citizens over 21 will be able to possess and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers but won't be allowed to grow it at home. An excise tax of nine percent would be placed on all recreational sales. Cities and municipalities would be given the option of adding their own local taxes (not to exceed four percent) on top of that.
To help medical cannabis patients, the gross sales tax on medical cannabis products would be removed and a “medical cannabis subsidy program” would be instated to provide subsidies to qualified low-income patients.
The state's Department of Health would monitor public health statistics as they become available, and the Secretary of Health would be required to appoint a “public health and safety advisory committee.”
While the first obstacle for the bill has been cleared, it still has to pass in two other panels—Judiciary and Finance—before it gets a vote on the Senate floor.
It's unclear if Senate Republicans will let the bill through, but Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is still loudly supporting it. In a tweet last week, she celebrated the bill's first milestone. “SB 115, legalizing recreational adult-use cannabis, successfully passes out of its first committee!” she wrote (note the exclamation point). “Recreational cannabis will be the next frontier of our economic expansion, creating 11,000 jobs across New Mexico & true economic potential for every part of the state.”
The sentiment was reassuring until I read some of the bizarrely uninformed comments below the tweet: “And how many kids will end up in hospitals, homelessness to skyrocket far higher than current numbers. [sic]” “Did you factor in the costs for the increase of impaired driving, drug overdoses, black market crime, and the brain development of our youth. [sic]” “As if we don't already have enough idiots here, weed for everyone! [sic]”
For the future of our species—and our own sanity—we must hope that these were written by trolls or sock puppets or Russian bots or people being forced to tweet at gunpoint. Else, all hope is lost.
After a rough first year, the New Mexico hemp industry is reportedly ready to plow ahead.
According to the Santa Fe Reporter, the new crop confounded some New Mexico farmers during its first year of legal production. The new market reportedly attracted both wide-eyed, inexperienced farmers and crooked “master growers” willing to sell bad products. This led to some farmers buying “feminized” seeds and growing undesired male plants. Many inexperienced farmers also had trouble choosing the right strains to grow in a desert environment.
The amount of plants with too much THC (making them “marijuana” rather than “hemp”) was relatively low. The state destroyed 3,927 plants and 52.47 acres of plants that were found to have exceeded the THC threshold. From over 400 licenses, the Department of Agriculture issued destruction notices for 34 samples.
Despite past problems, experts still say the hemp market is set to improve drastically this year. Retail markets for CBD and CBG are doing well, and farmers are expected to do better this year—now that they've got some experience under their belts.