Thursday, February 7, 2019

Should New Mexico Legalize Cannabis for Recreational Use?

The people of New Mexico are once more confronted with the question, Should New Mexico legalize cannabis for recreational use?

As a card carrying member of the state’s medical cannabis program and as a advocate for medical cannabis patient rights -- No, New Mexico should not legalize adult use of recreational cannabis in 2019 and here is why.

Legislators in the Roundhouse are projected to have $1.2 billion coming in for the new budget year, so there is absolutely no need to fast track recreational cannabis legalization in New Mexico for 2019.

Democrats in the House Chamber have introduced House Bill-356, the Cannabis Regulation Act. Everything proposed in the Cannabis Regulation Act by Drug Policy Alliance, Representative Martínez and Representative Maestas can be achieved by passing cannabis decriminalization and by expanding our current Medical Cannabis Program.

Passing into law Senate Bill 323, Decrease Marijuana Penalties, introduced this year by Senator Cervantes, Senate Bill 204, Medical Marijuana in Schools, and passing into law Senate Bill 406, Medical Marijuana Changes, that supports the recommendations made by the Doctors on the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Advisory Board in 2017/18. Those proposed measures for the medical cannabis program would also generate additional revenue and create jobs for the State.

Should NM Legalize Cannabis?
Credit: NM PBS/NMiF

The legislators promoting and sponsoring the Cannabis Regulation Act did not even attended any Medical Cannabis Advisory Board Hearings in the last 2 years to hear what the Doctors think about medical cannabis, nor did Drug Policy Alliance or any Lawmakers even bother to ask any constituents or any medical cannabis patients for suggestions when writing HB-356.

Also consider this, in other states with medical cannabis programs after recreational cannabis legalization, ALL of those state medical cannabis programs have suffered...legalization has not benefited any state’s medical cannabis program to date.

Governor Lujan Grisham has said that she wants the medical cannabis program to be protected before recreational cannabis legalization. And that is exactly were the focus should be, on protecting and expanding the current medical cannabis program.

And that's the reason why I voted for her, to Protect Medical Cannabis Patient Rights.

Throughout the course of the Martinez administration, the former Governor had a ‘do nothing’ approach to the state’s medical cannabis program. Neglecting the medical cannabis program over those eight years, as the program grew in size with more and more people using medical cannabis nothing was ever done. 

Web Extra: Recreational Cannabis And The Impact on Medical Cannabis
Credit: NM PBS/ NMiF

The Cannabis Regulation Act proposes several changes to the state’s current medical cannabis program, all of which would have a very negative impact on medical cannabis.

First and Foremost our state legislators should be keeping all Medical Cannabis Policy and Recreational Cannabis Policy separate in all Legislation.

Just as Americans For Safe Access has always said, the legalization of cannabis for recreational use is a separate issue from safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use.

New Mexico lawmakers and Drug Policy Alliance are letting the debate surrounding legalization of cannabis for recreational use obscure the science and policy regarding the medical use of cannabis.

Lawmakers cite the need for more money, and always mention all the money Colorado has coming in from Cannabis legalization for education. Guess what, we already spend more per student in our public schools than Colorado does, New Mexico has a money management issues going on and that needs to be addressed and fixed before tackling Recreational Legalization.

The Finances of Legalizing Cannabis
Credit: NM PBS/NMiF

The Cannabis Regulation Act is bad policy for medical cannabis and is bad policy for New Mexico. The proposed legislation states (on Pg 20/21) that, all commercial cannabis licensees are required to sell to both medical cannabis patients and consumers. That same section also requires that 1/3 of cannabis stock is for medical patients and 2/3 of cannabis stock is for recreational. The recreational consumers would be given more stock of cannabis available to buy than the medical cannabis patient treating a debilitating health condition.

If arrests for cannabis possession are a major social justice concern, the solution is decriminalizing possession, turning it into a violation equivalent to littering by passing Senate Bill 323, Decrease Marijuana Penalties, into law.

The focus should be on the medical cannabis program, education about cannabis, and protecting the program like Governor Lujan Grisham said.

That focus should include passing Senate Bill 204, Medical Marijuana in Schools legislation and ending the discrimination children have been facing for over a year. Along with passing a Senate Bill 406, that expands the medical cannabis program. A bill that will establish medical cannabis research at UNM and recognition of nonresident medical cannabis cards. These measures in legislation would allow for increased program participation and tourism in the state as people could come and enjoy events like Gathering of Nations or Balloon Fiesta.

Those proposed measures for the medical cannabis program would also generate additional revenue and jobs for the State. New Mexico needs to build a solid foundation first. Then start talking about Recreational Cannabis Use Legalization. 

The Line: Cannabis Legislation and Lawsuits
Credit: NM PBS/ NMiF

If lawmakers want cannabis legalized for recreational use in 2019, then call a Special Session in October for the Cannabis Regulation Act. After passage into law, the cost of the Special Session could be covered by revenue generated from the Cannabis Regulation Act.

New Mexico in Focus reported that this will be the 8th year now that Drug Policy Alliance and Senator Ortiz y Pino have tried to legalize recreational cannabis in New Mexico. In the last 8 years, there has only been one attempt by legislators to expand the state’s medical cannabis program. After 8 years of trying and failing it’s time to include medical cannabis patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens at the policy table for writing all cannabis legislation; instead of meeting in secret behind closed doors at the Roundhouse.

Today the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program has over 70,000 registered participants with over 75 dispensaries state-wide operated by 35 licensed non-profit producers (LNPP’s) now growing 14,550 cannabis plants. The Medical Cannabis Program (MCP) was created in 2007, as the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, under chapter 210 Senate Bill 523. New Mexico’s medical cannabis history started in 1978, after public hearings the legislature enacted H.B. 329, the nation’s first law recognizing the medical value of cannabis…the first law.

New Mexico's Legislation to Legalize Recreational Cannabis, House Bill 356 - "Cannabis Regulation Act", has been scheduled for it's first committee. The Cannabis Regulation Act is Scheduled for HOUSE HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES Committee on Saturday, February 9th 2019 at 1:30 PM in the House Floor Chamber.

New Mexico in Focus Cannabis Legislation Preview Discussion:

[ About the author, Jason Barker: He is a advocate for Safe Access New Mexico, a Affiliate of Americans For Safe Access; a freelance writer for Cannabis News Journal; and a medical cannabis patient in New Mexico. Jason lives in Albuquerque with his dog, Tecumseh, who has a very severe case of canine epilepsy. Jason’s work has focused solely on medical cannabis issues, decriminalization of cannabis, hemp policy and does not work on legalization of cannabis for non-medical purposes or other illicit drug issues.

*Mr. Barker is not paid or employed in the medical cannabis industry nor does he have any financial interest in the medical cannabis industry or recreational cannabis industry.]