SANTA FE – It has been legal for people in New Mexico to own recreational marijuana and grow these plants at home since Tuesday, the same day regulators opened discussions about the rules for introducing cannabis sales for the next year.
The milestone was celebrated by cannabis users and advocates of criminal law reform, who say poor and minority communities have been disproportionately prosecuted for using marijuana. Now, the smell of marijuana is no longer a good cause to search vehicles and property in New Mexico.
Recreational marijuana is now legal in 16 states and Washington, DC, with Connecticut and Virginia adding to the list Thursday.
New Mexico is joining a wave of states that have legalized cannabis largely through the legislative process rather than a voter-approved voting initiative. This has enabled innovations such as marijuana “micro-business” licenses that allow up to 200 potted plants at cannabis seed-to-sales establishments.
Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the day as “a great step forward for both social justice and economic development in our state.”
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After legalization efforts in the democratically-led legislature repeatedly stalled, Lujan Grisham convened a special session of the legislature in March to address cannabis reforms and signed the law in April.
“We are proactively stopping the disproportionate criminalization of people of color for possession of cannabis and building a new industry,” Lujan Grisham said in a press release.
The new law allows people 21 and older to own up to 2 ounces of marijuana. Until April 2022, individuals can grow up to six plants at home, for a total of twelve per household.
Regulators held a full-day public hearing to review proposed rules for cannabis companies to determine future license fees, quality controls, audit requirements, and the scope of criminal background checks for producers.
The rules they are considering would allow more marijuana harvests per company – nearly three times the 1,750 plant limit for medicinal cannabis growers. The number of participants in the medical marijuana program has grown to over 100,000 people in a state of 2.1 million people.
Medical users at the Minerva cannabis dispensary in Santa Fe welcomed the changes that went into effect Tuesday – including the removal of taxes on personal medical cannabis supplies.
Aurore Bleck of Santa Fe, a 70-year-old retired caretaker, uses marijuana to treat nerve pain associated with multiple sclerosis. She says the changes will likely ease the financial burden of buying cannabis.
“I have a limited budget,” said Bleck. “It will help me because I can have six plants instead of four. I’ve grown a lot in the past. “
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Recreational marijuana sales, slated to begin April 1, 2022, will include a 12% excise duty in addition to sales taxes of between 5% and 9%.
The governor and lawmaker are eager to find a new source of income that can help reduce the heavy reliance on the state’s oil industry.
Medical stores cannot sell recreational cannabis yet, but want to expand their showrooms for non-medical users.
John Mondragon, 56, of Santa Fe, ordered a cannabis-infused lemonade to help relieve his post-traumatic stress.
“I’m glad they passed,” he said of the recreational marijuana legalization law. “There are so many people out here with undetected fear. If you use it, it will help. “
At the regulatory hearing on Tuesday, officials from the state’s newly formed Cannabis Control Division heard sharp warnings about the overuse of agricultural water supplies and the dangers of overregulation.
“A lot of these regulations are only going to keep the illegal market going,” said Kristina Caffrey, chief legal officer of Ultra Health, a leading manufacturer and distributor of medical cannabis. “Do you allow legal access to compete effectively?”