The Land of Enchantment moved closer to realizing the full legalization of recreational marijuana. As reported in the Albuquerque Journal (AJ), “The New Mexico agency tasked with setting up the state’s new recreational cannabis industry will begin accepting producer applications this week after adopting rules that set plant limits and a fee structure for companies that grow and harvest the state’s newest cash crop.”
While some details still need to be worked out, the legislation that made this possible, the Cannabis Regulation Act, allows adults age 21 and older to possess a maximum of two ounces outside the home. Age-qualifying participants may also grow up to 12 plants at home without a permit. However, like every other state, there are common-sense restrictions, such as not allowing consumption in public or the sale of cannabis by unlicensed people, as well as the prohibition of driving while under the influence of marijuana.
There is also a component to address the increasing perceived negative consequences of the war on drugs. According to KRQE, “The Criminal Record Expungement Act requires that all public records maintained by the state are automatically expunged after two years if the crime on record is no longer a crime under the new Cannabis Regulation Act. This applies to both arrest records and conviction records. If the record contains additional crimes, only the crimes related to cannabis will be removed.”
The AJ also reports that large-scale licensed cannabis producers will be able to grow up to 8,000 mature weed plants, with a maximum of 10,000 plants if subsequent state approval is granted. Regulation and Licensing Department Superintendent Linda Trujillo said in a press release, “We are ready for business. The Cannabis Control Division is committed to supporting licensees to maximize the economic opportunities that adult-use cannabis sales offer our state.”
While the sale of recreational marijuana is slated for April of 2022, New Mexico residents can currently grow marijuana if they adhere to the particulars of the law.
New Mexico’s governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) is optimistic about the future of recreational marijuana in her state, saying, “The legalization of adult-use cannabis paves the way for the creation of a new economic driver in our state with the promise of creating thousands of good-paying jobs for years to come,” the governor said in a press release. “We are going to increase consumer safety by creating a bona fide industry. We’re going to start righting past wrongs of this country’s failed war on drugs. And we’re going to break new ground in an industry that may well transform New Mexico’s economic future for the better.”
Grisham also emphasized how the new law will decriminalize simple possession, stating, “We are proactively stopping the disproportionate criminalization of people of color for cannabis possession, and we are building a new industry.”
Residents seem to be happy with the decision, as well. “It doesn’t seem like it’s a very harsh drug, hopefully, the country will follow soon, but I think it’s a good thing,” Benjamin Corsey, a Las Cruces resident said. John Mondragon, 56, of Santa Fe, suffers from PTSD, claiming “I’m happy that they passed it,” he said of the law legalizing recreational marijuana. There’s so many people out here with unrecognized anxiety. As they use it, it will help.”
Of course, not everyone is happy. Predictably, some Republican legislators are already speaking out against the new legislation. State Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce said recreational marijuana would lead to more crime, underage use and impaired driving, as reported by the Santa Fe New Mexican, Pearce declared, “The governor has a pipe dream of saving the state’s finances by hoping to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars from marijuana revenues, but it’s unclear just how much money will end up in state coffers.”
While this is a valid concern, only time will tell how much revenue New Mexico will generate from the sale of recreational weed. However, if their neighbor to the north, Colorado, is any indicator, it could be a lucrative funding source for New Mexico. According to CNBC, “Colorado has now generated more than $1 billion in total state revenue from the legal marijuana industry, another milestone for the state that legalized cannabis in 2014.”
Yet, things are not that straightforward. Beyond the question of what a state does with its marijuana tax revenue, it musty also consider how much tax to levy. If the tax is too low, they miss an opportunity to generate significant tax revenue. Aiming too high is potentially worse, however, because it pushes people into the illegal market to find less expensive sources of marijuana. Geoffrey Lawrence and Spence Purnell of Reason magazine frame the issue this way:
“Black markets will continue to operate so long as high taxes in the legal market create a large price disparity. Such high tax rates may not only sustain illicit market suppliers but also result in few tax receipts as fewer and fewer transactions take place on the legal market. A central question is the degree to which marijuana excise taxes approach or exceed the risk premium necessary to compensate producers and consumers for their decision to participate in black market transactions. Policymakers looking to minimize illicit markets must determine the level of taxation that would discourage consumers and producers alike from seeking black-market alternatives, while still ensuring that tax rates cover the costs of regulatory enforcement.”
In Oregon, where an illegal market for marijuana thrives, the tax rate is 17%. With a proposed 12% tax rate in New Mexico, only time will tell if that will incentivize people to seek illegal weed.
Meanwhile in Texas, the decision to legalize marijuana is causing ripples in the Lone Star State. “We’re going to have legalization in New Mexico, it’s certainly going to have an impact on the El Paso area,” said Duke Rodriguez, CEO and president of Ultra Health, one of the largest cannabis companies in New Mexico. “I think a lot of Texas will now have the right to purchase and consume cannabis in New Mexico,” added Rodriguez.
But they will not have the legal right to consume marijuana in Texas, however. Ryan Urrutia, commander of the patrol division for the El Paso County Sheriffs’ office, explained:
“Edibles or the vape cartridges that people are using now, those are actually a felony possession, so you can actually be charged with a felony if you’re caught in possession of THC in that form,” said Urrutia. “If you’re caught with the traditional marijuana, which is the green leafy marijuana, that is still a misdemeanor all the way up to a felony, depending on the amount.”
For many people in New Mexico, though, the Land of Enchantment just got a little more enchanting.