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Your NM Gov: Slow Growing Support For Cannabis Legislation

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Cannabis is the topic. As part of the continuing coverage from Your New Mexico Government it is time for an update on the legislative session at the Roundhouse. To discover more about the Cannabis legislation under debate at the state Capital, KUNM's Khalil Ekulona sat down with Juile Ann Grimm, editor for The Santa Fe Reporter.

KUNM: Welcome Julie Ann Grimm.

JULIE ANN GRIMM: Hello. Thanks so much for having me.

KUNM: Yes. How you been?

GRIMM: We're doing great here at the Santa Fe reporter can't complain and full speed ahead.

KUNM: House Bill 12, which has advanced through the house Health Committee, and is on its way to the house Tax Committee. Tell me how close was the vote to get it out of the first committee.

GRIMM: You know, the vote to get it out of the house Health and Human Services Committee, which happened early this week was really along party lines. So I think there's a seven to four vote. And so you had the republicans who serve on that committee who asked a lot of questions and aired their concerns ultimately, you know, plans to vote no the whole time. So a lot of those long hearings that happened, especially the second of the two hearings, was really about sort of the opposition airing their complaints and kind of knowing that the bill was going to go through the committee.

KUNM: Mm hmm. Now I understand that there was a competing bill, House Bill 17, which was tabled. Can you tell us why?

GRIMM: Yeah, basically the people who are advocating for the reform of New Mexico's marijuana laws and their cannabis policy are on the same page and a lot of ways. So there are two bills that were presented by various legislators House Bill 12, which is led by Javier Martinez and housefull 17, which was led by two freshmen, northern New Mexico legislators, Tara Lujan, and Roger Montoya. That significance of that second bill is also that the New Mexico cannabis Chamber of Commerce, which is a relatively new trade group, they backed that House Bill 17. And so they started referring to it as the industry bill, the bill was really just a stripped down version of the other proposal. The big differences, though, are that House Bill 17 does not allow home grow of cannabis like, you know, producing it in your backyard next to your tomatoes once it becomes legal. And the other big sticking point is regulation of supply overall. So the bill that's moving forward- House Bill 12, it does not include regulation of supply, and in fact, it says the state won't regulate supply. But House Bill 17 wanted to establish like an annual consideration of supply and demand in order to regulate producers and try to avoid some market situations that have occurred in other states that legalized but you've got the sponsor of House Bill 12, one of the sponsors, Deborah Armstrong is the chairperson of the house Health and Human Services Committee. And so I think that's one of the other reasons why you see the bill (she's backing House Bill 12) move quickly out of that committee.

KUNM: Okay. Now, I understand that there are social justice provisions in House Bill 12. Can you tell me what they are and why they're important?

GRIMM: Yeah, the social justice provisions are really intended to say, there are people who are punished in an outsized manner, by the drug war, there are certain communities, there are people of color, there are people with certain economic demographics, the people on the low end of the spectrum, all those people were punished in a greater degree during the drug war and continue to be punished to a greater degree by being penalized and being imprisoned and all those things. And so you hear the backers who label themselves as progressives say that these social justice things are really important. So it's creating a business climate that gives a little bit of an advantage, a head start they're calling in to small businesses. There's also an expungement aspect to it, which is about addressing the criminal convictions of people who have been, you know, who have been served time and you have these spots on their record from small time cannabis possession charges. And so you've heard the backers of this bill, say, if we're going to do cannabis legalization in New Mexico, we have to do it right. We have to incorporate all of these big, hard, messy topics about social justice. And then I think you've got some folks on the other side saying: let's legalize cannabis, let's not worry about those big messy topics until we kind of get the framework in place. And as we've seen, you know, a lot of legislative policies on a variety of topics coming back to fix it the second time doesn't always pan out the way people think it will. So you can see the tension there.

KUNM: Yeah, I mean, it seems like we're kicking this social justice can down the road. I mean, we've seen this over 40 year old war on drugs negatively affect black brown native communities along with the generationally indigent. You know, and so, how is this going to provide avenues for small companies to get involved in recreational marijuana? Like again, will I be able to grow an operation out of my home and get into the game, or do I have to be one of these big, powerful, well resourced corporate entities?


GRIMM: I mean, I think the idea, you know, the Drug Policy Alliance, which is a reform organization is backing House Bill 12, which is the one that's moving forward. And you know, the Drug Policy Alliance says that those things are, you know, absolutely essential, and that they are building a framework for what you described. So it's not just the big players. It's not just the ultra health of the world that get in on the deal. But I think that this bill, it's important to note it has a long way to go. And this bill has to be heard by the house tax and revenue committee, that committee could have met today (Friday 2/19), their normal schedule would have called for a meeting today, but the chair, familiar name, Javier Martinez published a notice yesterday that there would be no tax meeting today. We're not sure then when house bill 12 will get to a full floor vote. I think people assume that it will pass on the floor because a similar piece of legislation passed last year on the House floor. But then it's got to travel over to the Senate. And last year, that bill died in the Senate Judiciary Committee. And there are some similar concerns. You know, among the current membership of that committee, we have seen big changes on the Senate Finance Committee, which some people are hopeful will allow for the passage, but the head of the Senate Finance Committee is now George Munoz. And when he ran for governor, he told me personally that he had big problems with the idea of legalizing cannabis. So I don't know that this thing is really on the greased skids yet. 

KUNM: Hmm. Now, what is the opposition to this bill? What are they saying about it?


GRIMM: I think there's a wide range, you've got your typical law enforcement kind of crowd. In fact, there is another cannabis proposal that is just a Senate proposal, it's been proposed by Cliff Pirtle, that name might be recognizable to some people who are listening, this guy is a Roswell senator, he's a republican, he's kind of known for his conservative lean. And he's described his bill as he even described on the call-in show on your station a couple of weeks ago, as um, more pro law enforcement bill, it has a bunch of stuff in it like allowing a local government to limit the number of cannabis dispensaries in a particular place. Like you can't have them next door to each other, they have to be a mile apart, you know, things like that. So I think that the arguments about how do you police and how do you know conservative communities deal with this infusion of the market of the, you know, legal cannabis market, that's kind of one of the big questions. Certainly how much the tax is, and which jurisdictions collect the tax, and then whether the tax is earmarked for particular purposes. Those are all questions you're going to hear people argue about as these, you know, proposals move forward. And really, there's some indication that they're really going to, you know, we love to use this phrase, and the New Mexico legislature, they're going to make the sausage over at the Senate. And they're going to take all of these ideas that have been part of the various legalization proposals, and they're going to figure out what they think they can pass and you know, the shape that the final legislation will come in, it's way too early to tell. 

KUNM: Okay, so I'm going to ask you to put on your prognostication hat for a second with me, you know, if you were to take the shot in the dark, and to see if this thing is going to pass by the end of next month, do you think we will have finally some recreational marijuana legislation made into law here?

GRIMM: Oh, Khalil it's such a hard question, because I want to be an optimist and say that I feel like the reasons to do this for New Mexico far outweigh the reasons not to do it. That the benefits we stand to gain as a, you know, society are better, they're greater, and they outweigh the risks that we take on. But I don't think the legislature is necessarily ready to do this. And you know, and we've seen poll after poll that public opinion in New Mexico says they should do it. But we've seen the legislature slow walk on a lot of issues. And I'm afraid that's what's happening this session, as well.

KUNM: In politics, I've learned that the results of public opinion polls don't necessarily have anything to do with the decisions that the lawmakers eventually come to and many times they work in opposition to each other. So what else can we look forward to at the Roundhouse? What else is going on besides this quest for us to finally have pot in our hands, what else can we look forward to?

GRIMM: Well, you know, the reporter has been watching a piece of legislation about the predatory lending industry. You know, you may have recalled Jeff Proctor was on the show couple of weeks ago talking about this and that New Mexico laws allow some lenders to charge 175% interest on people who are taking out short term loans, and that is just a ghastly number. And so you've got to reform effort underway to reduce that cap to something more like 36%. Okay, which still feels like a high cap, you know, some of us who are looking at mountains of debt and the economy that we're facing, but that bill is a little snagged up, it hasn't moved. It's in the Senate, it hasn't gone much of anywhere. We were expecting a hearing on it today. But apparently, that's now not happening until Monday. Okay, so that's one of the issues we're watching. We're also covering package of education reforms that are really a response to the court decision in the Yazzie-Martinez case, which is really about increasing equity in education for all the kids in New Mexico and acknowledging that Native children have not been well served by our public education system in particular. So there's a couple of those that were watching and you know, we're to the anything can happen phase of the session, and this 60 days session feels like a big heave right now. You know, everyone is just on zoom, yeah, eight or 10 hours a day, and it's pretty grueling, but you're really going to start to see things happen, or it's going to become clear which things are not going to happen in the next three weeks. 


KUNM: Okay, we're gonna keep our eye on it, and while certain committees at the Roundhouse are taking Friday off, the intrepid journalists at the Santa Fe Reporter never take a day off. I want to thank Julie Ann Grimm, editor of the Santa Fe reporter and one of our partners for Your New Mexico Government with this update. Always a pleasure, Julie.

GRIMM: Thank you.


Your New Mexico Government is a collaboration between KUNM, New Mexico PBS and the Santa Fe Reporter. Funding for our coverage comes from the New Mexico Local News Fund, the Kellogg Foundation and KUNM listeners like you, with support for public media provided by the Thornburg Foundation.


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