Cannabis Manual: The Big Disappoint

Why The Legalization Bill Failed

Joshua Lee
5 min read
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We’re knee-deep into the 21st century, and we’re still getting shafted in an area that should have been fixed decades ago. Cannabis is still illegal.

It’s preposterous, but it doesn’t even feel weird. We’re all used to it. I’m bored just saying it.

Apparently our lawmakers still need more time to think about it, though.

The recreational cannabis legalization bill,
Senate Bill 115, was unceremoniously shoved to the side earlier this year. I heard they took it to a quiet spot out behind the Roundhouse—somewhere where its cries wouldn’t be heard—and strangled it like a mad dog. The tattered bill was seen tumbling lifelessly along the gutters of Santa Fe later that evening. If you can’t tell: It still bugs me.

I’ve been asked what went wrong, and I still refuse to guess. I have my own conspiracy theories, but I’ll be tucking them away for now. It’s likely that the more vanilla explanations are right, anyway. Some aspects of the bill rubbed people the wrong way, after all.

For instance: If it had passed, the bill would have made it illegal for individuals not enrolled in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program to grow marijuana plants. Imagine the state criminalizing growing your own tomatoes—it seems crazy. Placing limits of any kind on growing marijuana seems ridiculous until you consider the the need to control potential black market activities (made possible by the drug’s illegal status elsewhere). But outright barring law-abiding citizens from growing a plant naturally is beyond strange when you stop and think about it.

Another big problem with the bill was the extreme limitations it would have put in place regarding how cannabis is advertised. Under the bill, advertising cannabis products would be prohibited on billboards, the sides of buses, unsolicited internet pop-ups, radio, television or other broadcast media (with the exception of subscription services that can guarantee that there audience is over 21).

The only places where advertisements would have been allowed—in print and digital media—were also restricted to areas “where the audience is reasonably expected to be 21 years of age or older, as determined by reliable, current audience composition data.” In other words: Not in easily accessible publications (like the one you’re holding) or on a website without an age verification check.

These restrictions would have been detrimental not only to the dispensaries, but also to the many local media outlets that rely on ad revenue to continue running (like the one you’re holding).

A major point of contention over the bill was a lack of protection for businesses wanting to maintain a “drug-free workplace.” Business leaders and, by extension (for obvious reasons), lawmakers said they needed assurances that employers could still enforce marijuana-free hiring practices. Some have tried arguing that it’s a safety issue, but the reality probably has more to do with the
Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988.

This law enables employers to collect federal grants as long as they maintain a drug-free workplace policy. Under those policies, employees often have to sign an agreement saying they will not partake in illegal drug activity on or off company premises. Since cannabis is federally illegal, an employer couldn’t knowingly employ a user—even if it’s legal in the state.

Maintaining a drug-free workplace can also benefit employers by giving them cuts to workers compensation insurance premiums. The logic behind the discounts is that drug-impaired workers cause more accidents, and a drug-free policy lowers that number.

So, of course, employers don’t want to have anything to do with a legalization bill that doesn’t explicitly allow them to keep screening for THC during the hiring process. Considering recent changes to the state’s medical cannabis laws which protect patients from being turned away for cannabis use, the concern is definitely real. It also means they consider the weight of their wallets to be more important than progressive drug reform. No surprise, there.

I still think any bill that will free those who have been incarcerated for minor cannabis crimes should be pushed through, no matter what flaws it has. It’s easy for me to hop on Twitter, take a dump on our leaders for not passing the bill and go about my day like everything’s groovy. For the poor wretches sitting behind bars over a joint right now, the news was probably devastating.

Oh well! Maybe next year. I’m sure that will comfort them as they rot in their jail cells.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham doesn’t seem ready to back down yet, anyway. She told reporters that legalization is “inevitable,” and I’m inclined to agree. It only took a few million years for that first fish to crawl up on the beach and take a nervous breath. I just don’t want New Mexico to be like his neighbor, the nervous fish that waited another million “to see how it pans out.”
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