As the 2020 legislative session continues in Santa Fe, legislators will be contemplating a variety of bills that could affect the state’s economy as well as public safety.
Cannabis Regulation Act
On Thursday, Jan. 23, House Bill 160, the Cannabis Regulation Act, sponsored by Reps. Javier Martínez (D-Albuquerque) and Antonio “Moe” Maestas (D-Albuquerque) to legalize and regulate the sale of cannabis products in New Mexico, was introduced on the House floor.
The bill, if signed into law, would create a regulated system and grant the commercial sale of cannabis beginning in 2022.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham supports the measure to legalize recreational cannabis in New Mexico for adults aged 21 and older, saying it would be an economic development driver that would create thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in revenue for needed public services all across the state.
“The Legislature has the opportunity to pass the largest job-creation program in New Mexico in a decade,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said. “Skeptics have been right to preach study and patience. I agree with their caution — and that’s why we haven’t rushed into this issue. But if we are clear-eyed about the risks, we have to be clear-eyed about the opportunity.”
Rep. Kelly Fajardo (R-District 7) says while she doesn’t have an opinion either way on legalizing recreational cannabis, she’s cautious about legalizing something just to bring in revenue.
“If that’s their reasoning to legalizing marijuana, it’s a big policy problem,” Fajardo said. “We’re in a state of two million people, and I truly believe those who smoke already will continue to, and those who don’t, won’t.”
Fajardo says legislators in Colorado, where recreational cannabis is legal, are revamping its current legislation because of flaws in the law.
“One of the things no one has addressed is how this would affect those driving under the influence,” she said. “It can be in your system for a while, but you’re not technically high.
“Also, the tests costs about $5, which would create an unfunded mandate for law enforcement,” she said. “I want to make sure law enforcement would get funding if this is approved.”
Rep. Alonzo Baldonado (R-District 8) says if the legislation is passed, it would “definitely bring additional money” into the state’s coffers.
“But do you create other things that cause us to spend money, like impaired drivers on the road and rehabilitation?” Baldonado asked. “Colorado didn’t realize the other end of the spectrum, which creates homelessness and increased criminal activity.”
Baldonado said while there would be an increase of revenue to the state if the law is approved, he wants to know how the state plans to use that extra funding. He would want it to be allocated to be beneficial to the state.
“They’re trying to pass this bill legalizing recreational marijuana, but there are a lot of other things that are a priority in the budgetary session,” Baldonado said. “This topic might be better brought up in a special session.”
Sen. Greg Baca (R-District 29) said his feelings on recreational cannabis have changed over the years. While he was initially was on the fence about the matter when he first was elected to the Legislature, Baca said he found information from the Colorado Department of Public Safety “pretty alarming.”
“The findings they presented during the interim committee meetings for the last five years found that teen use is up significantly,” Baca said.
The senator said he was also concerned about the effects cannabis might have on others due to how it’s consumed.
“If a person is using alcohol, they take a drink and aren’t affecting another party,” he said. “The idea I don’t like is, if someone is consuming it at home and there are children in the home, how do you control who’s breathing it in and who’s not?”
Baca said there could be issues in the workplace and with people driving, since cannabis stays in a person’s system for an extended period of time after the effects have worn off.
“We don’t have a good test for if someone is high. It’s difficult to test whether someone was under the influence while driving because of the longevity,” he said. “There are a few issues that haven’t been worked out. If we can overcome some of those, it might be possible.”
Sen. Clemente Sanchez (D-District 30) said there was a lot of information in the bill and had not had a chance to study it.
“I really don’t have an opinion at this point,” Sanchez said. “There’s a lot more than just recreational cannabis in the bill.”
Rep. Harry Garcia (D-District 69) said he wants to see data on how this bill will impact the state as a whole.
“I think we have enough problems with drugs and alcohol already. All we’re doing is adding more stuff for people to get hooked on,” Garcia said. “I think the cons outweigh the pros.”
Rep. Matthew McQueen (D-District 50) said he voted for the recreational marijuana bill last year.
“I had my reservations about it then but I believe they’ve done a lot of work and I think we’re going to have a better bill, so I would anticipate voting for that this year,” McQueen said.
Extreme Risk Protection Order Act
The governor is also calling on lawmakers to pass a red flag law during this legislative session, saying it would save lives in New Mexico.
Under the proposed legislation, a law enforcement officer or family member could request an extreme-risk protection order but would have to provide a sworn affidavit explaining in detail why the order is needed.
A judge would review the petition and determine if probable cause exists to issue a 15-day emergency order to seize weapons and ammunition. During those 15 days, the judge would schedule a hearing to decide if there is cause for a one-year temporarily suspension of a person’s access to firearms if that person was deemed to pose an immediate threat to themselves or others.
House Bill 7, Extreme Risk Protection Order Act, is sponsored by Reps. Daymon Ely (D-Corrales) and Joy Garratt (D-Albuquerque). The bill has been assigned to House Consumer Public Affairs Committee, where it passed on Tuesday. The bill will be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee next.
Baldonado said while the premise of this bill has “good merit when you look at it from a 30,000 foot view,” he says the devil is in the details.
“It would be almost impossible for law enforcement to be able to enforce it efficiently,” Baldonado said. “We can’t expect law enforcement to go in and seize fire arms, inventory them and store them all in safe manner. It would be cost prohibitive.”
He also is concerned this law could negatively affect law-abiding citizens.
“Yes, we could pass a law that would possibly prevent crime, but it might do more harm than good,” he said. “Yes, we have a problem with gun violence, and I’m all for about having conversations about saving lives.
“But to me, someone can just arbitrarily accuse someone of a threat of violence.”
Fajardo says she’s been talking to a lot of people, including local law enforcement officials, about this particular legislation, and says the majority of people she’s heard from are against it.
“I can basically say that (someone) has been saying horrible things, that they’ve been drinking a lot more and we should take their guns away,” Fajardo said. “It would be wrong to hold someone’s guns without proper due process.”
She is concerned this law would punish people for a crime they didn’t commit or hasn’t been convicted of.
“We don’t do that in this country,” Fajardo said. “You have to be a convicted felon before you can take someone’s guns away. This is a slippery slope.”
Sanchez said he knew the bill was on the governor’s call this year, but hadn’t reviewed it or seen the one from last year.
“Time will tell,” he said. “This session is to focus on the budget. That’s No. 1.”
Baca said he saw some serious issues with the proposed legislation.
“You basically have a situation where a family member, or even an ex family member, if they feel there’s an issue, can petition the court and have weapons removed from you for a certain amount of time, then see a judge who decides if they will be returned,” Baca said. “Essentially, we have a person who hasn’t really had any day in court.”
As opposed to a restraining order, which protects a person’s property or their own health or welfare, Baca said this legislation addresses a second party’s rights.
“These are two different things. I think this is a higher level of restriction, and when you’re talking about fire arms, you are going into constitutional amendment territory,” he said.
Garcia said the heart of the issue on gun control are the mental health issues.
“I understand that a lot of people are getting hurt. We need to address the mental issues of the problem,” Garcia said. “People don’t just go out and shoot people with a gun because they’re normal. People kill people, and to do that, there is something mentally nor right about somebody doing that.”
Garcia said he needs to read the legislation on this to see exactly what that bill will say.
McQueen called it the Extreme Risk Protection Order Law as he said some people don’t like the name “Red Flag Law.” At the time of the interview, he had not seen the bill yet, but said it was the kind of bill that he is inclined to support.
“I think we have a gun violence problem in this country. We can and should adopt reasonable gun safety precautions,” McQueen said.