Growing Forward and looking to the past – New Mexico Political Report

It is nearly a guarantee that recreational cannabis legalization will be one of the main talking points and likely a wedge issue during next year’s legislative session. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has made it clear since she ran for governor and throughout her nearly two years in office that she wants to see cannabis legalized. 

There have been repeated efforts to fully legalize recreational-use cannabis for a number of years, but under former Gov. Susana Martinez those attempts repeatedly failed. Now, with a governor advocating for legalization, backed with potentially millions of dollars, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel for proponents of legalization. 

But both the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions showed that it takes more than the governor’s support to legalize cannabis. For the past five years, even under the Martinez administration, no such effort to legalize cannabis even came close to getting to the governor’s desk. Now, even months before legislation can be filed, lawmakers are already discussing the merits and downsides of legalization. Some say taxable cannabis sales can help fill the widening budget gap, while others argue the risks outweigh the potential influx of money to the state. 

Amid this background, NM Political Report and New Mexico PBS, with the help of a grant from the New Mexico Local News Fund, are working together to produce a 10-episode podcast series examining cannabis, called Growing Forward. 

Medical cannabis use has been legal in New Mexico since 2007, but that program faced plenty of criticism as well. Erin Armstrong, an Albuquerque attorney and one of the namesakes of the state’s medical cannabis law, discovered she had thyroid cancer when she was 17. Soon, she found herself testifying in front of state lawmakers, trying to make her case that cannabis could help alleviate many of the symptoms she experienced. At the time she was not a cannabis patient, yet she insisted that she and others with approved conditions should be able to use it medicinally. 

You can hear Erin talk about her experience in the first episode of Growing Forward, but you can also listen to the preview episode to get a better understanding of what the goal of the podcast is. 

Through hours of interviews, New Mexico PBS correspondent and on-air host at KUNM-FM Megan Kamerick and myself have found that the path to legalization is neither an easy nor short one. Besides the opponents to legalization in the New Mexico Legislature, many medical cannabis patients are concerned that a recreational-use program would leave the state’s current medical program by the wayside. 

Growing Forward will also take a look at how the state regulates, and fails to regulate in some instances, the medical program and what kind of training is and is not required of those who work in a medical cannabis dispensary. In the next several weeks, Growing Forward will also examine the business side of medical cannabis and who some of the big names are. Growing Forward will also devote a significant portion of time looking at how legalization impacts tribal communities. 

The goal of the podcast is not to advocate one way or the other on legalization, but instead to take a look at how New Mexico’s medical cannabis program got to where it is today, the good and the bad of the current program and what we might expect to see during the next legislative session. 

New episodes of Growing Forward will be released every Tuesday, beginning this week. Listeners can start with the preview episode to find more about what it will sound like and then the first episode which looks back to how medical cannabis was legalized in the first place. 

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