Cannabis legislation had a mixed record of success in 2019’s 60-day Legislative session. Recreational marijuana failed to make it to the governor’s desk, but two smaller bills, one expanding the hemp industry and the other easing restrictions on medical marijuana patients, both passed both houses of the Legislature. A bill that softens penalties on drug busts also passed and is heading to the governor for consideration. She has until April 5 to sign or veto any of the measures.
SFR wrote early last week that recreational marijuana was not likely to pass the Senate—and sure enough, it didn’t. After the bill passed the House of Representatives, some advocates thought it might have some legs, but Sen. John Arthur Smith (D-Deming), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said that it would be “a long shot” if the bill got a hearing. Still, it’s the furthest a legalization bill has gotten so far in New Mexico. Some advocates didn’t like the bill anyway, for reasons including a ban on home-grown plants and a requirement to carry a receipt of marijuana purchases, and would rather start fresh. They’ll get their chance next year, as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signaled at the end of the session that it would be on her agenda during the next one in 2020.
"We're going to make that a priority and we're going to work during the interim with all parties involved to see if we can't get to a place that everyone feels good about," she said at a post-session meeting with reporters.
Medical Marijuana, Less Drama
Recreational cannabis may have suffered a setback, but the state's more than 70,000 medical card holders will be happy to hear that, after the passage of SB 406, they don't have to continue to renew their license every year. The bill, which the governor is expected to sign, now only requires patients to renew their cards every three years. However, they will still need to see a doctor every year in order to keep their cards.
Industrial hemp was legalized in New Mexico last year, but the Hemp Manufacturing Act, also on Gov. Lujan Grisham’s desk, would expand what can be done with the plant and allow the research and manufacture of hemp-based products. Hemp looks similar to marijuana and is in the same family, but you can’t get high from it. The plant contains less than 0.3 percent THC, the psychoactive ingredient in its sister. Instead, hemp, which has been referred to as a billion-dollar cash crop, is used for its fibers, oils and seeds to make textiles, food and cosmetics, among other uses.
The bill “provides regulatory authority to a couple of state agencies to oversee hemp manufacturers,” says Brad Lewis, division director for agricultural and environmental services at the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, who spoke with SFR on Monday. “Last year’s bill was for growers,” he says in reference to the legalization of hemp farming. “The bill this year addresses the ancillary businesses, the manufacturers.”
Penalties for being caught with marijuana would be reduced statewide, which isn’t as great as, say, not having penalties at all. But it’s not nothing. If these changes to the criminal code come out on the other side of Gov. Lujan Grisham’s pen, anything less than half an ounce will only get you a penalty assessment and a $50 fine, but between half an ounce and an ounce could get you up to 15 days in jail. Anything between one and eight ounces has a fine that caps out at $1,000 and jail time not to exceed a year. Carrying more than that takes users to felony territory, though, and there aren’t any changes to those stiff laws. Point is, it still sucks that people are going to jail for possessing marijuana, but it might suck a little less now.