Recreational marijuana in NM: Why did it fail? Where does it go from here?

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According to a survey from Change Research, nearly 3 in 4 New Mexicans support legalizing recreational marijuana. With support from both the public and the governor, why did the bill to legalize recreational marijuana fail?

Last week, a state Senate committee tabled the bill that would’ve legalized recreational pot. The vote included two Democrats.

"It was a train wreck because we had given them the 180 page substitute for the previous bill a week ago but it hadn't been distributed so none of them had read it. Even their chairman hadn't finished reading it,” said Sen. Gerald Ortiz Y Pino (D-District 12).

Gov. Michelle Lujan-Grisham said she plans to bring back the bill during the longer session next year.

"I think there's any number of legislative issues they want addressed in the bill that make it an even better regulatory framework for cannabis and I think we'll have a better shot in the 60 day session and we fully intend to bring it back,” she said.

Business Leaders’ Concerns with Legalization

Lawmakers plan on bringing the bill back to the table during the 2021 legislative session. The state’s business leaders are expected to weigh in on the issue again. One of their top concerns is enforcing workplace drug policies.

“People have the choice of using marijuana and we're not against that but when you take that next step and legalize recreational marijuana you're making a commitment that I don't think our state can pay the bill for,” said Carla Sonntag, president and founder of the New Mexico Business Coalition.

Sonntag said any future legislation would have to include safe guards for employers.

“They've got to be able to have a drug free workforce. Well if that's the case, the current legislation, there were some amendments made right at the end before it was tabled, but that legislation as it was drafted did not cover the need for employers to have a drug free workforce—and that has to happen,” Sonntag said.

The governor has described recreational marijuana legalization as an economic driver, but Sonntag said she wonders for whom?

Sonntag said legalization in other states created a reason for some businesses to not open or relocate.

Legalization in Other States

There are currently 11 states including the District of Columbia that have legalized recreational pot, but not every state went about it in the same way.

Colorado was the first state to legalize weed in 2012. Voters had to approve amending the state’s constitution to get it done. A similar effort failed in 2006.

Illinois recently passed a bill in a similar way that New Mexico is trying to—through the state legislature. The state banned recreational cannabis use in 1931.

Voters vs. Legislature: Who should approve recreational cannabis?

KOB 4 asked people across Albuquerque if the fate of recreational marijuana should be approved by voters or stay in the legislature.

“It's not something that should be controlled by the state. I think we should have the decision to smoke pot or not,” said one person in Nob Hill.

A resident in northeast Albuquerque by Academy and Wyoming gave a different opinion.

"The state thinks they'll get a bunch of money but it costs a bunch of money to have marijuana legal,” he said.

A local contractor said she has worried about how to monitor employees if it’s legalized.

“They hurt somebody, harm somebody, they might not be stoned but it’s going to be in their system. We’re going to be sued that's how it goes,” she said.

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