The finish line is close: Build a compromise cannabis bill – Santa Fe New Mexican

Time is running out for legalizing adult recreational marijuana use in New Mexico, despite backing from top House and Senate leaders and support from the governor.

One bill, House Bill 12, has passed the House of Representatives and is now being considered in the Senate.

The legislation allows adults 21 and older to purchase up to 2 ounces of cannabis at a time, creates a system of regulated and taxed cannabis sales and would expunge past marijuana convictions.

The legislation balances redressing past wrongs while laying the foundation for a new industry. Still, despite widespread momentum for cannabis legalization, getting the law passed and signed won’t be easy.

For one thing, several proposals remain on the table. Last week, the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee had House Bill 12 and three Senate bills before it.

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth was blunt: Find a compromise and go from there. Or else, he said, “there’s a good chance we end up with nothing” at the end of the session March 20.

With time running short, the sensible path is to take House Bill 12 — already through the House — and amend it with the best provisions of Senate proposals, including some from Republican Sen. Cliff Pirtle, making approval bipartisan. Pirtle seeks to use legalization as a weapon to rein in the illicit market.

One concern of opponents — and skeptics about legalization — is how law enforcement officers would deal with drivers who use cannabis and drive under the influence. Considering New Mexico’s tragic history with drinking and driving and alcohol abuse, putting additional impaired drivers on the road is hardly a desirable outcome.

The legislation establishes a public health and safety committee to track statistics on use, abuse and other impacts of legalization. That would include such things as child safety, workplace safety, driving while impaired statistics and emergency room visits. The idea is to ensure that legalizing cannabis does not make New Mexicans less healthy.

This week, sponsors of the various bills have been meeting to work out a compromise approach so that come Saturday, a vote on legalization can occur. Then, if it can pass the Senate, the House can concur and legislation to legalize cannabis would make it to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk.

She has supported cannabis legalization both as a way to raise needed tax dollars for New Mexico and, importantly, as the opportunity for the state to create an industry.

Projections indicate that recreational cannabis sales could create 11,000 new jobs, with sales of $318 million in the first year and tax revenues of $28.6 million. Potential careers include growing cannabis, manufacturing products, opening shops and working in retail establishments.

Already, Northern New Mexico College has launched an online cannabis course to prepare workers for the industry. Such efforts will keep jobs and economic growth at home rather than sending money elsewhere.

Colorado already draws New Mexicans — even medical patients — who want to purchase cannabis at much cheaper prices. Now, Arizona is selling legal cannabis, an effort that launched just a few weeks after voters legalized recreational sales in November.

Those dollars could be spent here rather than flowing out of state.

For economic opportunities to blossom, legislators need to build a compromise that protects current medical marijuana patients, creates enough supply to lower prices and begins to alleviate some of the ills fostered by the war on drugs.

That’s a tall order for one piece of legislation, which is why passing a comprehensive legalization bill is no easy task. But the clock is ticking.

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