It was backed by the governor, the vast majority of the state’s population, and had even been reviewed by a committee in January. But it now appears that there will be no further movement for SB 115 this year, meaning New Mexico’s cannabis legalization dreams will have to wait for the next legislative session. 

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-4 to table the bill.

“We’d have no chance of getting it through now,” said its sponsor Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino, who remained positive despite the bad news. “This is a setback, but I think in the long run it will produce a better bill.”

Likewise, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan was not thrilled by the day’s events, but seemed unshaken in her resolve to legalize in her state. “I am disappointed but not deterred by tonight’s committee motion,” she said in a statement. “The door remains open. We will keep working to get it done, and ultimately we will deliver thousands of careers for New Mexicans in a new and clean and exciting industry, a key new component of a diversifying economy.”

Lujan has been a serious booster for marijuana access in New Mexico. In January, she formally announced her intention “to pass the largest job-creation program in New Mexico in a decade.” 

Marijuana advocates say that legalizing recreational cannabis could bring 11,000 jobs to the state, and $100 million in tax revenue within five years. 

SB 115’s defeat was largely due to the reluctance of Republican senators to pass a cannabis legalization bill, but two Democrats also voted for its tabling on Wednesday.

Judiciary Committee chairperson Senator Joseph Cervantes was one of these dissenting votes. During the bill’s hearing, he raised questions on a variety of factors, including its empowerment of labor unions in the process of meting out cannabis business licenses.

The bill largely followed the policy recommendations that had been laid out by a task force commissioned by Lujan. Among those pointers that were included in SB 115 were a clause that would have made it mandatory for recreational dispensaries to provide tax-free medicinal marijuana to cannabis patients. That would have been a stopgap for the medicinal shortages that other states have seen after legalizing adult use marijuana, which is often a more profitable than medicinal weed. 

It would have instituted an average 20 percent sales tax on recreational cannabis, to be used to subsidize low income patients, plus substance abuse programs and law enforcement. 

Hope Is Not Lost

Despite the tabling of the bill, it did provide an opportunity for at least one local government to show its support for cannabis regulation. Las Cruces’ city council voted 6 to 1 to back the proposed legislation, which some council members said they saw as an opportunity to battle the state’s racially biased policing demons. 

Legalization may have been delayed for now, but all signs point to the fact that the battle for cannabis access is far from over in New Mexico. After all, it’s what the people want. A 2019 survey by Change Research found New Mexican support for cannabis regulation stands at 75 percent.

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