Neither Michelle Lujan Grisham nor Steve Pearce has ever tried cannabis, both candidates revealed in a televised debate last month.
Despite their inexperience, the person who becomes governor will take the reins of New Mexico's medical cannabis program, which has grown to include over 60,000 people but is still restrained by barriers to production and patient access.
Gov. Susana Martinez' one foot in, one foot out approach has resulted in a program hamstrung by an arbitrary annual limit on the number of plants producers can grow, a lack of consistent guidance for testing cannabis purity, a CBD restriction that's pushing some patients back onto opioids, frustration with the limited number of medical conditions that qualify for a card, and near-endless feuds with producers over taxes, proprietary turf and more.
So when Pearce refused to speak with us about the medical cannabis program, which he says he supports, we sent some questions about it to his spokesman Kevin Sheridan.
"Given his schedule, it's going to be hard to get him on the phone for this," Sheridan told SFR over the phone. "He's generally for the medical marijuana program, [and] if it needs to be fixed in specific ways, he'd be open to it."
Sheridan didn't respond to SFR's list of questions.
In the campaign's first televised debate last month, Pearce confessed that he was "suspicious" of medical cannabis "for many years," but came around to it after close friends testified to its usefulness.
"The medical marijuana—fine. We will do it," Peace declared.
Recreational cannabis, on the other hand, is a non-starter. The Republican candidate sees it as a hindrance for a state where a large share of people are enrolled in public benefits programs, though if you listen closely you'll hear echoes of the lazy stoner stereotype.
"People say Colorado is doing just fine," Pearce said at a candidate forum earlier this year. "Colorado has much deeper pockets to rely on. For New Mexico, we're at the bottom of everything and we're going to make one more stumbling block in front of people who are just trying to get themselves on their feet and get back to the workforce."
Lujan Grisham is inclined to sign a bill greenlighting recreational cannabis in New Mexico. She often points to her time as health department secretary under Gov. Bill Richardson, when she rolled out the state's medical cannabis program after the Legislature enacted it in 2007, as evidence of her commitment to the issue.
She says the key will be to ensure medicinal cannabis doesn't get subsumed into a recreational market, which prioritizes strains ideal for getting high but not necessarily symptomatic relief.
"Part of it is finding ways to incentivize the production of products that get minimized when you have access to recreational cannabis," such as CBD, Lujan Grisham told SFR by phone. She cites Colorado, which "nearly destroyed its medical cannabis program and is now looking at regulations" to build it back up.
Learning from the mistakes of other states that have legalized pot for all is something the Democratic candidate brings up a lot. If a recreational bill arrived at her desk—and pundits say that's likely—Lujan Grisham has said many times she'd only sign it if it protected the medical program, addressed workers' compensation insurance so employers can't be sued by impaired workers, and included adequate barriers to underage use, which would include tighter regulation on edibles.
She still won't commit to specific actions like abolishing the plant cap, saying she'd defer to "the people in the industry" for how best to handle this and other issues.
Given the dire needs of the state—from underfunded infrastructure and education, to a potential payout of billions of dollars to Texas over water rights, to a behavioral health system decimated by the current administration—Lujan Grisham doesn't have illusions that recreational cannabis would be a panacea. But she thinks it can't hurt.
Associated with cannabis is the coming hemp industry in New Mexico, which was recently legalized and is in the rulemaking process right now. Pearce didn't answer SFR's question about it. Lujan Grisham says she's been a staunch supporter.
"I was supporting hemp at the same time I was supporting medical cannabis," Lujan Grisham says. "I voted for hemp production at the federal level."