Legislator Talks 2020 Marijuana Bill, Taxes And Equity

Jan 28, 2020

A bill that would legalize recreational marijuana in New Mexico stalled in the Senate last year. Over the summer, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham convened a work group to study the issue and gather public comment, and the group released recommendations for legalization that—among other things—prioritized equity for people who have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. Rep. Javier Martínez, one of the sponsors of this year’s bill, spoke with KUNM about this year’s proposal, which passed out of the Senate Public Affairs Committee on a 4-3 party-line vote Tuesday, Jan. 28. 

JAVIER MARTÍNEZ: The Cannabis Regulation Act is one of the most progressive and smart legalization frameworks for recreational cannabis in the country. Our bill legalizes, regulates and taxes cannabis products. It creates a regulatory scheme from seed to sale. It ensures local control over where these operations can take place and shape. And it builds upon, I think, New Mexican’s spirit of entrepreneurship to take this industry to the next level.  

KUNM: Will people who have low-level marijuana offenses on their records see those records expunged?

MARTÍNEZ: That is correct.

KUNM: Will folks who are currently behind bars for marijuana-related offenses be released under this bill?

MARTÍNEZ: Under the current version of the bill, that would be the case. Also, I should add that having a conviction for a marijuana-related offense in the past will not be a bar to being able to get a license to make sure that people who may have made a mistake in the past are not unduly punished for activities that are now legal.

KUNM: Speaking of licenses—there are only so many liquor licenses total in New Mexico, which can mean that potential business owners have to buy or lease them from folks who already own them. And the prices can be pretty steep, like hundreds of thousands of dollars.

MARTÍNEZ: So, these licenses are property of the state. You have to reapply for your license every year. These are not commodities that individual people can sell or trade.

KUNM: In regard to taxation, what lessons have been learned from our neighbors in Colorado and other legalized states that show up in the Cannabis Regulation Act?

MARTÍNEZ: The biggest lesson I think, has been to find that sweet spot in order to generate the necessary revenues, versus also helping offset the illicit market. Colorado, California, for example, are too high. National experts have come into New Mexico and they've sort of identified 20 percent as the magic number, as a sweet spot. Our proposed tax hovers at around 20 percent. We believe that that tax rate will generate enough revenue to not only run the program but to actually benefit the entire general fund, while at the same time ensuring that products are still affordable, therefore helping offset, you know, some of the illicit market.

KUNM: How does this year’s bill differ from HB 356, which passed the House but got held up in the Senate Finance Committee last year?

MARTÍNEZ: So, House Bill 356 is the framework for this bill. The bill that passed the House floor, which contained provisions like state-run stores, those are not a part of this bill.

KUNM: What pushback, if any, do you expect in the Legislature? Like, where does this conversation get hung up?

MARTÍNEZ: My colleagues here in the Legislature, they're going to have a lot of questions, and rightly so. I am cautiously optimistic. A lot of work has gone into it, and therefore I think a lot of healthy debate will take place. I don't know that there's one specific concern that is not addressed by the bill. I think it's mostly just dealing with the sheer impact of the bill that potentially has some people concerned.

KUNM: We deal with high rates of DWI and substance abuse here in New Mexico, and the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce is concerned about people driving while high if recreational marijuana is legalized. How does the Cannabis Regulation Act address those issues?

MARTÍNEZ: You know, I've heard that concern. And look, this bill does not legalize driving under the influence. It’s a misconception that I think some folks are pushing. I should also note that, you know, in terms of opposition, at this point, the Chamber of Commerce is about the only one. But to be quite honest, they tend to oppose a lot of good things. I'm more concerned with law enforcement or educators opposing us. And all of those folks have been great. You know, as far as opposition from the chamber, you know, it's their prerogative. I mean, this is probably the biggest economic development tool in a long time, and for our Chamber of Commerce to be opposed to it is beyond me.

KUNM: Do you think this has a shot in a 30-day session? Or is it too complicated?

MARTÍNEZ: I'll never say never, but it is—as the governor has indicated—it's a big lift, and it's going to be a lot of work. But we're going to keep pushing, and then hopefully 30 days is enough.

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This story is part of the project: Your N.M. Government. Funding for our legislative coverage is provided, in part, by the Thornburg Foundation, the New Mexico Local News Fund and KUNM listeners like you.