Clock on Cannabis

Senate committee hearing to legalize adult use in New Mexico punts to Tuesday

A Senate committee hearing tentatively scheduled for this weekend has been stalled to Tuesday to give bill sponsors more time.

And even with the few extra days, those following the debate over cannabis legalization in New Mexico can't be sure what to expect, as proponents of competing legislation are keeping potential compromises close to the vest.

Last Saturday, Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee Chairman Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Springs, and Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, told backers of four proposed legalization bills presented to that committee that they should get together and return with consensus in a week for a second hearing. But even those instructions left vague whether the chairman would schedule all the bills again, just one of them, or some combination. Wirth tells SFR the committee hearing is now set to take place Tuesday because the parties working on compromise "needed more time."

The clock is ticking on the session that wraps March 20. Legislators have said there's plenty of time to shepherd some version of a regulatory structure for adult use and taxation on the plant to a successful Senate vote. But they've also cautioned that a procedural misstep could lead to another year of no action.

House Bill 12 cleared the lower chamber Feb. 26 on a 39-31 floor vote. If lawmakers amend the bill in its next stops—a pair of Senate committees—and recommend its adoption on the Senate floor, it would then move to a concurrence committee with members of both chambers before it lands on the governor's desk.

If a different proposal moves through the Senate, however, it would also then have to get through the House committees and back to the House floor—a longer shot, according to Wirth.

"I just worry that…there is a good chance we end up with nothing because we just can't get all the pieces lined up," he said at last week's hearing.

Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, questioned sponsors of all the measures at the hearing, then concluded with a broad stroke.

"I think you all know that 20 days in a legislative session is an eternity," he said, "so I think you have got plenty of time to get everything done."

Rep. Andrea Romero, a Santa Fe Democrat who is one of the sponsors of HB12 and who has served as a spokeswoman for the bill at various committees, tells SFR the team behind that measure is considering "lists and lists" of potential amendments from other lawmakers, stakeholders and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has highlighted regulation of adult use cannabis as one of her session priorities. The aim, Romero says, is to shape the bill in such a way that it will pass the current committee and beyond. (Its next and final assignment is Senate Judiciary.)

"We are always cognizant of the clock running. It's sort of where we are—every session is always a race to the very end to get these meaningful pieces of legislation through," Romero said Thursday afternoon, adding later, "Many, many folks are on board with getting this done this year, and it's time for New Mexico…We feel really good about what we have. I think the changes that we are going to make, if at all, are going to be really minimal to what you see already in the bill."

The measure—sponsored by Albuquerque Democratic Reps. Javier Martínez and Deborah A. Armstrong, along with Romero—is substantively similar to last year's House-passed bill crafted by a governor-appointed task force. In its present form, it calls for an 8% excise tax on top of any local GRT to be levied on sales and it includes provisions for expungement of criminal records for previous cannabis possession and allowing New Mexicans to grow their own cannabis at home as well as prohibiting the state from capping commercial production, among other offerings.

Senate Bill 363, sponsored by Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, is significantly similar to House Bill 12, but includes a higher excise tax rate and other variances. Candelaria didn't respond to a request for comment before publication about his intentions for the upcoming hearing.

While an amended version of HB 12 might have the votes to go all the way, Republicans have balked at ramrodding that version through the Senate, with Rep. Cliff Pirtle of Roswell arguing that his proposal, Senate Bill 288, is more likely to earn some bipartisan support. Pirtle's bill includes a provision by which counties and cities could opt out of allowing recreational sales within their borders (something Romero said is "on the list" for consideration as an amendment). While HB 12 and SB 363 allow local zoning decisions on where sales and commercial cultivation could take place, Pritle's would specify that those businesses can't be located within a mile of each other.

Senate Bill 13, the so-called "industry version" proposal was also on last week's agenda; it contains provisions rejected by the House in its approval of HB12. It's not clear how much Senate support, if any, exists at present. Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, an Albuquerque Democrat, didn't represent his own bill last week, leaving that task to freshman Rep. Tara Lujan, D-Santa Fe, who sponsored its House companion with the support of the New Mexico Cannabis Association trade group. The main sticking points are that this proposal orders the state to regulate supply and does not address expungement of previous cannabis possession convictions.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong name for the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee.

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