Prospects dim for NM marijuana legalization bill

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A House-approved bill that would make New Mexico the nation’s 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana use appears to have hit a dead end in a Senate committee.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith. D-Deming, said late last night the legislation does not have enough votes to pass out of his panel.

“Right now, that doesn’t have enough votes in the Senate Finance Committee,” Smith said in an interview.

He also said one of the bill’s sponsors had asked him not to hold a hearing on the measures if it did not have enough votes to pass.

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Last week, the House narrowly approved the recreational marijuana bill, House Bill 356, which would allow for legal sale of cannabis at state-run stores. The legislation won approval after being retooled following bipartisan, bicameral talks involving House Democrats and Senate Republicans.

The 36-34 House vote marked the first time a recreational marijuana proposal had ever been passed by one of New Mexico’s legislative chambers.

The measure also passed out of its first assigned Senate committee on March 9, but has stalled in its second assigned committee, the Senate Finance Committee.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said today he believes the bill would pass if it were to reach the full Senate.

“I think the votes are there to pass it on the Senate floor,” he said.

While a 2016 proposal to legalize recreational marijuana use and tax its sales died on the Senate floor, the support of three Senate Republicans — who also filed their own legal cannabis bill — has changed the political calculus during this year’s session.

Egolf suggested the bill will be back in the future if it does not pass before the 60-day session ends at noon on Saturday.

“I think we got really far and sometimes these bills have to come back year after year (before winning approval),” Egolf told reporters.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who took office in January, has said she is open to legalizing recreational marijuana, but only if there are safeguards to prevent use by children, protect the medical marijuana program, and address workplace intoxication and driving under the influence.

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