Advocates are making their final push to get a recreational marijuana bill passed this legislative session, but the odds of New Mexico becoming the 11th state (or 12th, counting DC) in the country to enshrine full legalization appear to be growing slim.
The proposed Cannabis Regulation Act, which would remove criminal penalties for possessing and consuming marijuana, has passed the state House of Representatives and is now working its way through Senate committees.
Sen. John Arthur Smith, the conservative Democrat of Deming who chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee, says HB 356 won’t likely be heard in his committee before the session wraps.
"It's a long shot," Smith tells SFR. "Appropriations takes priority," he adds, referring to the appropriations bill that was also before the committee.
“So you’re saying there’s a chance?” Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, the bill’s primary sponsor, says when SFR tells him about Smith’s comment.
Time is running out, with the legislative session ending at noon Saturday. If the cannabis bill doesn’t pass the Senate Finance Committee and get a vote on the Senate floor by then, New Mexicans looking to buy marijuana without a doctor’s note will have to keep waiting.
“I think we always knew there was an uphill battle in the Senate,” Emily Kaltenbach of the advocacy group Drug Policy Alliance says. “However, there’s still five healthy days in this legislative session. If they don’t hear it, I really feel they’re falling behind the curve of history.”
Martinez and his co-sponsors were concerned with producing a bill they thought Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a fellow Democrat, would sign.
“Protection for medical, protection for kids,” Martinez says when asked about the governor’s priorities. “Those have been our guiding principles and I think we’ve stuck to them.”
But the bill has run into trouble with legalization advocates who believe it doesn’t go far enough. In addition to requiring the state to operate distribution, the House-based version now prohibits home-grown marijuana and requires users to carry receipts of their marijuana purchases.
Some advocates, including Doug Fine, author of Too High to Fail, a book about legalized cannabis, says the bill should fail because it falls short of full, proper legalization.
“It’s the worst legalization bill in the nation,” says Fine, who lives near Mimbres. “It’s a human right to grow your own plant.” He calls the measure’s receipt-carrying provision “ridiculous.”
“We’ve seen enough good cannabis legislation around the country,” Fine says. “There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.”
Kaltenbach points out the same issues in the bill, but she and her organization decided it was a step in the right direction.
"This is a compromise bill; there were things that unfortunately were not included that DPA has advocated for in the past," Kaltenbach says. "But we will keep fighting to get those things implemented in the future."
DPA sees the progress made this session as a success, even after hearing Smith's comments.
“We have won this year,” Kaltenbach says. “The floor of the House is the furthest we’ve ever gotten. Now it’s only a matter of time.”