New Mexico Joins New York and 15 Other States in Legalizing Marijuana

Joe Biden, meanwhile, supports continued national prohibition, maintaining an untenable conflict between state and federal laws.


Yesterday, on the same day that New York became the 16th state to legalize recreational marijuana, legislators in Santa Fe approved a bill that will add New Mexico to that list. The Cannabis Regulation Act passed the state House by a vote of 22–15 and the state Senate by a vote of 38–32 during a special session convened by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is expected to sign the bill soon.

New Mexico is the fourth state, in addition to New York, Illinois, and Vermont, to legalize marijuana through the legislature. Thirteen other states have approved legalization by ballot initiative, although South Dakota's measure is tied up in the courts.

The New Mexico bill allows adults 21 or older to purchase and possess in public up to two ounces of marijuana, 16 grams of cannabis extract, and "eight hundred milligrams of edible cannabis" (by which it presumably means edibles containing up to 800 milligrams of THC). Residents also can legally transfer those amounts to other adults "without financial consideration." The bill imposes no limits on possession at home.

Marijuana use will be allowed in licensed "cannabis consumption areas." The bill refers specifically to "smoking cannabis," which suggests that other kinds of consumption will be allowed elsewhere.

Adults will be allowed to grow up to six mature and six immature cannabis plants at home. Unlike New York's law, which delays permission for homegrown marijuana until up to 18 months after the first state-licensed retailer opens (which may not happen until late next year), New Mexico's bill allows home cultivation while the state creates a system for licensing and regulating commercial production and distribution.

The bill assigns that task to a newly created Cannabis Control Division of the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department. The division is required to write rules for licensing and regulating recreational marijuana businesses by January 1. That is also the deadline for beginning to process license applications. The division is required to begin allowing retail sales by April 1, 2022.

The retail sale of cannabis products will be taxed at a rate of 12 percent—substantially lower than the THC and sales taxes New York plans to collect. A third of the revenue is earmarked for local governments.

A fiscal impact report from the Legislative Finance Committee notes that "there is no effective date of this bill," so "it is assumed that the effective date is 90 days following adjournment of the Legislature." That implies decriminalization of possession and home cultivation will take effect in June.

Another bill approved by New Mexico legislators yesterday, which Lujan Grisham also is expected to sign, requires automatic expungement of government records related to marijuana offenses that are no longer crimes. Marijuana offenders who have not completed their sentences will be eligible for judicial dismissal and expungement. The bill says expunged records may not be considered in decisions regarding public employment or professional licenses.

Virginia legislators, meanwhile, are gradually moving ahead with plans to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Gov. Ralph Northam yesterday said he would like the state legislature to legalize simple possession by July 1, "nearly three years sooner than previously planned." He also thinks home cultivation of up to four plants should be allowed by that date.* But the deadline for the legislature to enact provisions regarding commercial production and distribution is still January 1, 2024, which means retail sales won't begin anytime soon.

"Virginia will become the 16th state to legalize marijuana," Northam said yesterday. That prediction already has been overtaken by events. Virginia might instead be the 18th state to legalize marijuana (or the 17th, if you don't count South Dakota). That's assuming no other state acts in the meantime.

"New Mexico joins an ever-growing list of states that have realized the failures of marijuana prohibition and the harms it brings to their communities and citizens," says Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "They are the third state so far this year that has approved legalization via the legislative process [counting New Jersey, where the legislature approved a plan in response to a 2020 ballot initiative], and we expect several more will follow suit in a short period of time. The American people are demanding an end to prohibitionist policies that have wreaked havoc on communities of color, squandered countless millions in taxpayer dollars, and wasted limited judicial and law enforcement resources on criminalizing otherwise law-abiding individuals for possession of a product that is objectively less harmful than currently legal alcohol and tobacco."

All of the conduct decriminalized by these state laws, including possession, cultivation, and sales, is still prohibited by the federal Controlled Substances Act. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which was approved by the House of Representatives in December but was never considered by the Senate, would have addressed that untenable situation by removing marijuana from the schedules of controlled substances. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D–N.Y.) plans to reintroduce the MORE Act, and yesterday Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) said his chamber will soon consider legislation that would "end the federal prohibition on marijuana."

President Joe Biden, notwithstanding his avowed conversion from draconian drug warrior to enlightened reformer, has shown no inclination to do that. Altieri hopes the continuing collapse of marijuana prohibition at the state level will apply "further pressure on the federal government to finally deschedule marijuana nationally and end this ongoing tension between state and federal policies."

*Update, April 7: The Virginia legislature today approved Gov. Northam's proposed amendments, so residents 21 or older will be allowed to possess and grow marijuana for personal use beginning on July 1. Virginia is the first Southern state to legalize recreational use.