Marijuana legalization in NM: Where does the conversation currently stand?
September 04, 2018 10:25 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – When you walk into Purlife, a medical cannabis dispensary with multiple locations in town, you'll notice they take what they sell very seriously.
You might also notice the business's recognizable CEO—Darren White, the former Bernalillo County sheriff and staunch Republican who used to adamantly oppose marijuana for any use.
But he's come around.
"I did resist it, and I was vocal in it, and I was wrong," White said. "I was just wrong."
White said his mindset shift started years ago when he was tired of taking opioid painkillers to numb the chronic pain of arthritis and a bad knee.
A friend gave him some cannabis lotion to try.
"And it worked," he says. "It really worked. I noticed a difference."
White has been running the nonprofit dispensary for two years now, and while he said he believes in the power of cannabis medicinally, he's not quite ready to say they want to join other states in selling recreationally.
At least, not yet.
"It's a topic of discussion, and we're just grateful that we've been invited to the table to be part of that discussion," he said.
Those discussions have been going on for years now, between regular citizens all the way up to state lawmakers. State Rep. Bill McCamley (D) has been at the table from the beginning, having sponsored unsuccessful legislation to legalize marijuana for recreational use since 2014.
None of the bills hit the floor for a vote. But he's still optimistic.
"I think 2019 should be the year," McCamley said.
The legislator, representing District 33 in Doña Ana County, says it's a no-brainer solution to many of New Mexico's problems.
"We estimate that you can get somewhere between $60 and $70 million of state tax revenue by legalizing (marijuana) for social use," he said.
McCamley gave up his House seat to run for state auditor. If his bill passed, recreational marijuana would be taxed statewide at 15 percent. Individual cities and counties could add their own excise tax of about five percent.
The money could either be earmarked for certain things like education, or they could let the cash flow into the General Fund.
And there, Republican State Rep. Bill Rehm says, lies the first problem.
"The problem is you get the revenue into the budget and then we're going to spend that every year and now…if you will, we can't get rid of it," Rehm said.
Rehm's biggest argument centers around statistics he has seen out of Colorado, Washington and California, states where recreational marijuana is already legal.
"I want to sound the alarm," he said. "If you look at states that have legalized marijuana, they have huge problems that come with it. Everyone wants to talk about the revenue, but no one wants to talk about the downside of it."
A 2015 report showed a 92 percent increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths in Colorado from 2010 to 2014, when recreational sales there began. The report also showed a 45 percent increase in marijuana-impaired driving.
Rehm also points to an increase in homelessness across our neighbor to the north, and an increase in hospital stays related to marijuana in California.
The legislator also fears New Mexico will also see an uptick in youth abusing the drug, a fear shared by McCamley.
But the Democrat points to protections written into his bills to prevent that, with education and treatment programs funded by the profits.
McCamley said he also believes the economic boost New Mexico could experience would take a chunk out of homelessness.
"A study put out in 2006 showed that if we legalize cannabis right now, you would create, in the first year, over 11,000 legal jobs," he said. "There is not one other thing – not one other thing – in the state of New Mexico that we could do to increase more jobs right now than legalize cannabis for legal use."
Political insensitivities, McCamley says, have prevented even discussing the idea with state leaders to receive input from State Police or the Public Education Department, conversations he believes would help put them on the fast-track to crafting a bill with the best protections.
No matter what happens before the upcoming legislative session, White says he'll be watching.
"It will happen in New Mexico, but I think, and rightfully so, we have to ensure that the proper safeguards are put in place."
Updated: September 04, 2018 10:25 PM
Created: September 04, 2018 09:57 PM
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