Mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion ad­vances

Bill still has hur­dles to clear be­fore vote in House and Se­nate

Albuquerque Journal - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAN MCKAY JOUR­NAL STAFF WRITER

SANTA FE — New Mex­ico law­mak­ers got a peek Satur­day at the com­plex­ity of es­tab­lish­ing a le­gal mar­i­juana in­dus­try that would al­low adults 21 and over to smoke or con­sume cannabis for recre­ation.

They spent about three hours lis­ten­ing to tes­ti­mony and por­ing over con­cerns about work­place safety, how to mea­sure in­tox­i­ca­tion in im­paired drivers and whether a recre­ational pro­gram would da­m­age New Mex­ico’s med­i­cal cannabis pro­gram.

At the cen­ter of the de­bate is a

140-page bill that would le­gal­ize, tax and reg­u­late the recre­ational use of mar­i­juana for adults. The state now al­lows cannabis only for med­i­cal pur­poses.

The pro­posal, House Bill 356, cleared its first com­mit­tee Satur­day on a 5-2 vote along party lines, with Democrats in sup­port.

“Pro­hi­bi­tion sim­ply does not work,” Demo­cratic

Rep. An­to­nio “Moe” Maes­tas of Al­bu­querque said, “and the coun­try is com­ing to the re­al­iza­tion of that.”

But he and the other four co-spon­sors — all Democrats in the House — said they are open to changes aimed at ad­dress­ing con­cerns raised by sup­port­ers and op­po­nents alike.

Some speak­ers who ad­dressed the House Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Com­mit­tee on Satur­day said they sup­port the con­cept of le­gal­iza­tion, but that they had par­tic­u­lar con­cerns about, say, keep­ing ed­i­ble mar­i­juana away from chil­dren or how to en­sure med­i­cal pa­tients have a steady, in­de­pen­dent sup­ply of the cannabis prod­ucts they pre­fer.

“We are tak­ing all those com­ments to heart,” Rep. Javier Martinez, an Al­bu­querque Demo­crat and co-spon­sor, told his col­leagues. “We want to make sure we do this right.”

Busi­ness groups, mean­while, raised con­cerns about im­pair­ment at work.

The pro­posal, for ex­am­ple, would pro­hibit ad­verse ac­tion against em­ploy­ees in the med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­gram, un­less the worker is in a “safety-sen­si­tive po­si­tion.”

“We strongly be­lieve that em­ploy­ers must have the right to es­tab­lish a drugfree work­place and have the abil­ity to en­force that,” said Sher­man McCorkle, a busi­ness­man who spoke on be­half of the Greater Al­bu­querque Cham­ber of Com­merce.

The mea­sure is just now get­ting started as the Leg­is­la­ture ap­proaches the mid­way point of its 60-day ses­sion. To have a chance to be­come law, it will have to move quickly through a net­work of com­mit­tees and win ap­proval from both leg­isla­tive cham­bers by mid-March.

The bill’s prospects re­main un­clear. Some mod­er­ate Democrats in the Se­nate have helped block sim­i­lar pro­pos­als in the past.

Martinez and Maes­tas said Satur­day they have al­ready taken steps aimed at ad­dress­ing the crit­i­cism raised Satur­day and in pre­vi­ous ses­sions.

Licensed mar­i­juana busi­nesses, they said, would have to keep a per­cent­age of their sup­ply ded­i­cated to the med­i­cal pro­gram.

And cannabis pack­ag­ing couldn’t tar­geted at chil­dren, the spon­sors said.

Maes­tas, a for­mer prose­cu­tor and de­fense at­tor­ney, said there are po­lice of­fi­cers trained in rec­og­niz­ing whether drivers are un­der the in­flu­ence. Em­ploy­ers, he said, could still pro­hibit mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion and im­pair­ment at work.

House Bill 356 touches on a host of pol­icy ques­tions. As it stands now, the pro­posal would in­clude:

■ Im­pos­ing taxes of up to 19 per­cent on recre­ational mar­i­juana sales. An­nual tax rev­enue would be in the neigh­bor­hood of $56 mil­lion, leg­isla­tive an­a­lysts said. The money would go to health, law en­force­ment and re­search pro­grams, in ad­di­tion to city and county gov­ern­ments.

■ Al­low­ing cities and coun­ties to opt out of al­low­ing com­mer­cial sales of recre­ational cannabis.

■ Ex­pung­ing crim­i­nal records on mar­i­juana ar­rests and con­vic­tions.

The pro­posal now heads to the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, po­ten­tially its last stop be­fore the House floor.

Se­nate ap­proval, of course, would also be re­quired.

Gov. Michelle Lu­jan Gr­isham, a Demo­crat, has said she would sup­port le­gal­iza­tion un­der cer­tain cir­cum­stances, such as ad­e­quate safe­guards against use by chil­dren.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.