“I think New Mexicans can finally exhale.”
Of all the pithy statements that marked today's final approval of cannabis legalization in New Mexico, that one made by Drug Policy Alliance advocate Emily Kaltenbach was the most concise and on-point.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed two bills in a windy outdoor ceremony Monday afternoon, one to tax and regulate the production of cannabis for adult use while making possession and home grows legal, and another to automatically expunge criminal records related to past possession.
"This is a celebration," Lujan Grisham said before signing the bills. "This is another example of both bipartisan work—conversation, leadership, engagement, a Republican bill—to move us across the finish line. Cannabis is another game changer. It is good for workers; it is good for entrepreneurs; it is good for consumers; and it brings about social justice in ways that we have been talking about and advocating for for decades."
The state is the 16th to buck federal law and declare marijuana consumption legal within its borders, and one of the legislative backers emphasized the significance of that continued message to Congress. (Virginia has passed a law and would be the 17th pending the governor's signature there, and DC has also already passed a law.)
“Little old New Mexico has done its part to tell the federal government once and for all to legalize cannabis for the people,” said Rep. Javier Martinez just before the governor signed.
Martinez, an Albuquerque Democrat who grew up in Mexico along the border and who was co-sponsor of the adult-use bill, said the day was a proud one for him because of its far reach. He noted that at the same time the last bill debate was going on in the Roundhouse, children were fleeing their homes and crossing into the United States as a product of “corruption, violence and poverty that is fueled by this failed war on drugs—cannabis being one of the biggest cash crops for those corrupt governments and those drug cartels.”
Starting June 29, the law allows individuals over the age of 21 to possess up to 2 ounces of cannabis, 16 grams of cannabis extract and 800 milligrams of edible cannabis at one time and to grow six plants per person at home. Sales of licensed commercial products are set to begin no later than April 1, 2022.
Kaltenbach, who worked closely with legislators and would-be regulators throughout both sessions and many before this year, said the passage of the law was hard fought.
“Everyone went to the mat to make sure that equity and justice and public health, safeties and protections for medical cannabis patients were front and center in their legislation,” she said.
Although no Republican lawmakers appeared to attend the bill signing, Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, acknowledged Republican Minority Leader Cliff Pirtle of Roswell for his role in robust debate and credited him with some components of the final bill. (Pirtle had introduced competing legislation and said during the final vote that the bill that passed was “a horrible piece of legislation.”)
Lujan Grisham identified cannabis reform as a priority during the regular 60-day session, then immediately called lawmakers back to work on the topic in a special session after the reform measure sputtered in the regular session’s final hours. It’s a call that Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe said “took a lot of guts.”
“Sixty days in Zoom purgatory, and when we got the message we were coming back, we knew we had to get it done,” Wirth said at the signing.
In response to a question from a reporter, the governor said she didn’t have any plans to partake of cannabis any time soon.
“I just really don’t engage,” she said. “I have no reason not to when it’s ready to go but I have no plans to rush out and do so. My issue is the well-known side effect. I need more carbohydrates in my life like I need another hole in the head, so I probably will just stay the course and look for endorphins in other places. But no opposition at all from this governor.”