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New Mexico Legislature Considers Legalizing Cannabis

January 26, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Democratic state lawmakers in New Mexico are redoubling efforts to legalize marijuana and tax sales for recreational use to shore up plunging state revenues and give the economy a boost.

Sponsors of parallel bills in the Senate and House announced their proposal to regulate cannabis sales and apply a 15 percent state sales tax.

Local governments would choose whether to allow marijuana sales within their jurisdictions and could collect an additional 5 percent tax, while cultivation would be allowed statewide, under a proposal modeled after cannabis laws in Colorado.

“We create jobs, we create economic activity and we create revenues for the state,” said Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, who plans to introduce the Senate version of the bill later this week. “It is one way this state has, and I think one of the most promising ways, to get back on track economically.”

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The Legislature is working to close a major deficit and shore up depleted operating reserves amid a downturn in the oil and natural gas sectors and a sluggish economy. State agency spending was trimmed 2.4 percent in October and more cuts are proposed for the fiscal year starting July 1 if new tax revenues fail to materialize.

Former district attorney and Republican New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has consistently opposed legalizing marijuana and industrial hemp production, and has held fast to vows again new taxes.

Ortiz y Pino expressed hope that the governor could be persuaded to endorse legalization with enough public pressure, noting that she was one of the first Republican governors to sign up for the expansion of Medicaid health care under Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

At the same time, Ortiz y Pino plans to introduce a constitutional amendment that could take legalization of cannabis and industrial hemp cultivation to a statewide vote in 2018 — with or without the governor’s approval. That would delay implementation at least mid-2019.

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“If it were to be passed by the Legislature, signed by the governor, it could be operational in New Mexico in July,” he said.

Reps. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces, and Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, are sponsoring the House version of the legalization bill.

McCamley said their bill would preserve the state’s medical marijuana program, in part to ensure affordable supplies to patients.

Initiatives to legalize cannabis in New Mexico have failed repeatedly in the past. Supporters say approval is more likely this year with the return of a full Democratic majority in the Legislature and evolving public attitudes about legalization.

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