Rural Advocate Wants More Equity In Cannabis Legalization

Mar 29, 2021

The New Mexico Legislature failed to pass a bill legalizing recreational cannabis before the 2021 session ended on March 20. Now Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has called a special session for March 30 to take up the issue. But advocates for traditional and rural communities say despite the equity provisions in the bill that died, there was not enough consideration of impacts on rural communities.

Moises Gonzales is president of the Cañón de Carnué Land Grant and an associate professor of Urban Design at the University of New Mexico. He spoke to KUNM’s Megan Kamerick and Andy Lyman of New Mexico Political Report for the podcast “Growing Forward: Cannabis and New Mexico.”

MOISES GONZALES: The argument is, let's expunge, and let's do this for people of color. But everything in this bill is about gentrification, and the corporate takeover of marijuana, and the further dispossession, furthering criminality within communities of color, and also further exploiting the rural resources.

ANDY LYMAN: So I just want to mention that I confirmed with the governor's office earlier this week that the discussions are still in the beginning stages, and then at least some of these concerns that we're talking about today are being considered. I also want to point out that HB 12 is essentially dead, that they may take language from it, but it's not going to be a carryover. With all that being said, what concerns do you have of some of these, if some of these things don't make it into the next version, and they say we're going leave it to rule changes?

GONZALES: It's really scary because everyone says, ‘We'll fix it the next time around.’ We know what the next time around means in big issues with big corporations. It's just continuing the perpetuation of New Mexico as a colonial state, that industry can come in and people of color, indigenous people are expendable.

MEGAN KAMERICK: So I know you're not opposed to legalizing cannabis. Moises, but what would true equity look like for you in legalization for people in rural communities, people of color?

GONZALES: Some of the equities would be protections regarding water rights, water right transfers, uses of water within this sort of industry. You know, we had hemp. I put this out there when I was trying to get information on the hemp industry. Nowhere were there any information about how many people of color, minority farmers were involved that had licenses to grow hemp and actually made money on it, right? A few things I'd like to state is, one is transparency on race, where are they coming from? Where is their investment coming? Investment into rural communities and protections for water and land. Ways in which small operators can get into the business. A true will grow by right by any individual in New Mexico, just like any other state that's dealing with recreation, and eliminate the criminality aspects that follow with that. What I look at is the beer, the microbrewery and the spirits industry in New Mexico, you know, you have Nexus, an African American-owned business that came from South Broadway. You have the Cañón de Carnué Land Grant. We have a taproom connected to a brewery, you know, you can make that connection. So I think allowing those investments, and then an equitable review, like who are holding these licenses, how does equity eventually make it into the marketplace?

LYMAN: It seems like the maybe unintentionally the Department of Health has limited the licenses? Right? You mentioned the liquor industry. It's my understanding is that it's been years, since they've opened up the licenses. So now you have this group of medical producers who may or may not get that head start in growing.

GONZALES: Exactly. Two years is what House Bill 12 was called for two years health a bump on anybody else, you know, it should be written the other way around. I mean, we're not going to get everything we want. But if we want to talk about really taking an industry where people of color got the brunt of incarceration, criminalization, and lives were ruined, we should be the communities that are targeted for some sort of reconciliation on that not further oppression.

KAMERICK: When you say grow by right you mean if this is going to be legal than anyone should be able to grow this on their land like any other crop?

GONZALES: Colorado you have, I think it's six plants. Some states have 12, where you get so many female, so many males. I think a good number would be five female plants that anyone could grow. And the argument is, ‘Oh, well, that'll kill recreational marijuana.' Not everyone's gonna grow five female plants. The thing is, one portion of the pill I believe you had to pay for your license. In Colorado, you don't have to pay. So let's say you're growing a couple plants, you don't pay the fee, then you're subject to a fifth-degree felony? There has to be something about equity in terms of moving forward.

Find the full interview and all the episodes of “Growing Forward: Cannabis in New Mexico” at or wherever you get your podcasts.