Following the Senate's failure to give a cannabis legalization bill a floor hearing on the last full day of the session, New Mexico might be headed for a special session to at last resolve the long-simmering debate.
The 60-day session ends today (Saturday) at noon, so it's now highly unlikely the heavily amended House Bill 12 could make it through the Senate and back for concurrence by the lower chamber.
As bedtime crept up Friday night, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's communications office started telling reporters the governor had issued an ultimatum.
"The governor has had very productive conversations with leadership on both sides about a path forward on legalized adult-use cannabis. Everyone's first preference is that this gets done and done right by 12 pm tomorrow. But there are a lot of priorities left to be heard, and only so many hours left, and legislators working very hard over long hours to move priorities, and if it doesn't get done by 12 pm tomorrow, the governor is prepared to call a special session to get cannabis done and done right," spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett wrote to SFR around 9:30 pm. "It's important enough and we're close enough that the governor firmly believes it will be worth an extra effort to close the deal."
House Democrats joined the pressure campaign shortly thereafter
Rep. Javier Martinez and Rep. Andrea Romero—Democrats from Albuquerque and Santa Fe, respectively, who are sponsors of House Bill 12—leaned on the Senate but also welcomed a special session.
"We need to legalize adult-use cannabis tonight or in a special session. It's now up to the Senate to have a vote. House Bill 12 puts forward New Mexico's best opportunity to establish a multi-million-dollar industry with a framework that prioritizes social justice and equal opportunity for our communities," reads a statement the pair issued. "The Governor has made a commitment to sign a bill that represents our shared principles, and we welcome any avenue, to do so. New Mexico is ready."
The bill moved out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the wee hours of Thursday morning and Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe got it on the floor calendar that same evening. Then, Wirth said Thursday night the bill would be heard Friday morning. By mid-day, the bill wasn't mentioned publicly by Wirth again. The Senate nevertheless moved through at least 17 of the 57 bills on its agenda in sessions that ran from about 12:30 pm to 6 pm and from 7:45 pm until sometime after midnight. At 11:30 pm, Wirth announced the "final" item of the evening was from the concurrence calendar.
Lujan Grisham has not publicly weighed in on the details as lawmakers have wrestled with competing proposals to reform cannabis laws, but said at the start of the session that she prioritized establishing "an essential new revenue source for the state and employment source for tens of thousands of New Mexicans [by] legalizing adult-use recreational cannabis through legislation that protects the state's medical cannabis program, provides for workplace safety and roadway protections and enforcement and clear labeling of products."
Linda Trujillo, the governor's appointed superintendent of the Regulation and Licensing department, became heavily involved in the drafting as HB 12 moved into the Senate, offering a 16-page amendment at the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee and more amendments at the Judiciary Committee.
The proposal also has the backing of the Drug Policy Alliance.
But what it doesn't have is bipartisan support in the Senate. Republican Sen. Cliff Pirtle, of Roswell, led a charge with fellow Republicans who favor legalization for recreational use and taxation for an alternative bill that was also heavily amended between committee meetings. Allies including Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, fought for its slimmed-down approach.
The Republican gambit contrasted with House Bill 12's incorporation of expungement of past cannabis possession criminal records and provisions to attempt to tilt the scales in favor of new small businesses owned by people in communities disproportionately affected by the drug war.
Of course some Democrats in the Senate were also highly skeptical, including Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces, who had said several times he was not likely to vote for the bill and had "philosophical" opposition. Gallup Sen. George Muñoz has also voted against previous proposals on cannabis reform such as a 2016 effort to ask for a constitutional amendment question voters would have decided on.