With this year’s cannabis legalization bill tabled by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday night, Rep. Javier Martinez is pondering his next moves.
Martinez, a Democrat representing Albuquerque in the state House, has been tweaking and re-tweaking the legalization effort for a handful of years now, and while the 6-4 Senate vote to table the bill is a setback, he’s bullish about the long-term future of a recreational cannabis law for New Mexico.
“As I’ve said all along, the Senate was always going to be the most difficult chamber,” Martinez tells SFR. “We got it out of the House, we did the work, but the Senate has shown us that they’re not quite ready yet.”
A new version of the bill is almost certain to appear again in next year’s longer legislative session.
Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, has said he thought this year’s bill had about a 50-50 chance due to the short 30-day session, “but I think by 2021, with the longer session, it will have a 75% or even 80% chance of passing.”
Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, head of the Senate Finance Committee, also gave this year’s bill some shaky odds in passing the Senate before this year’s session. He said his main concerns with the bill were border enforcement and patrol issues, along with concerns that the 17% tax would not generate the kind of revenues sponsors suggested.
A recent economic analysis of cannabis legalization in New Mexico by Corrales economist Kelly O’Donnell suggests that the industry, with a tax average of about 20%, would generate $100 million for New Mexico annually by the fifth year. Her projection also indicates 11,000 new jobs in the state in cannabis-related farming, manufacturing, retail and business services.
O’Donnell projected first year sales of about $318 million, increasing to $620 million by year five.
“A lot of the economic impact and benefits of legalization will boil down to how legalization is implemented,” O’Donnell says. “It’s pretty important that you have a reasonable regulatory structure, enforcement of the law and good regulation and business development.”
The potential economic boon would also be felt in Northern New Mexico, she says, especially in areas where tourism is common.
“For Santa Fe, the impact would probably be more than some surrounding areas because of the tourism industry,” O’Donnell says. “Resorts, border towns, ski areas, they should all do well…Texans coming to eastern New Mexico to buy cannabis, will probably also be a major source of commerce whether we want it or not.”
Martinez says his legislation would help rural communities by allowing microbusinesses to form. Rural areas should also get an economic boost from cannabis farming, production and manufacturing, he adds.
“Microbusiness lets a small group of neighbors join together to make their own business so they can sell on the market,” Martinez said. “With the closure of mines in the Northwest part of the state, this could be a new economic model.”
Of course, there could also be gaps in the state where local governments decide to opt out of legalization. O’Donnell says she expects Los Alamos, for example, to do that because of its strong relationship with the federal government and the labs.
“A city like Taos, though, would do very well with legalization,” O’Donnell said. “Even someplace like Las Vegas, where there aren’t as many tourists, you still have a good pool of interested residents,” both as workers and consumers.
Legalization would also help Northern New Mexico hold on to more cannabis revenues—because while cross-border commerce is discouraged, right now residents in the north can and do go to Colorado to purchase cannabis.
Whatever the specifics of the next legalization bill, the discussion in New Mexico is far from over. And Martinez says he has even more confidence that it will pass in 2021.
“We’re not giving up,” he says.