A New Mexico Democrat said he is “optimistic” that a finalized bill on adult-use cannabis will be introduced to the House of Representatives the week of Jan. 21, 2019.
On the eve of the first session of the 54th Legislature, state Sen. Gerald “Jerry” Ortiz y Pino was pushing to properly word SB 242, an updated version of HB 312, which failed in the 2018 session. SB 242 reportedly would include provisions for workplace protections for employees who use cannabis “off the clock.”
“It's a complex bill and it's still being drafted,” Ortiz y Pino told Weedmaps News during his lunch break on Jan. 14. “It will end up being almost 100 pages when it's done.”
The new bill, which would replace HB 312, could prove to be landmark legislation. Not only would it provide approximately “$30 million to $60 million" in additional tax revenue, but it also would be one of the nation's first state laws to protect medical marijuana "card-carrying" workers from being fired by employers for testing positive for cannabis.
The bill would also end a decade of legal struggles within its borders to legalize recreational cannabis. New Mexico approved medical marijuana in 2007.
Leading the state's recreational charge for the last several years, Ortiz y Pino remains undaunted in his pursuit to pass legislation to regulate the production, sale, and taxation of cannabis for individuals 21 and older.
In January 2014, the Albuquerque-based lawmaker introduced SJR 10, a state constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana. A month later, it died in the Senate Rules Committee after a 5-5 vote.
After an earlier version died in committee in 2017, Ortiz y Pino ended the year by prefiling SJR 4 for the 2018 session. SJR 4 would have put the legalization issue before voters if approved by two-thirds of the House and the Senate. No action had been taken, effectively killing the bill.
Ortiz y Pino's work started to flower in February 2018 when the Senate Rules Committee, by a 4-3 vote, approved the taxation and regulation of marijuana.
Ortiz y Pino's optimism stems from the new-look legislative body. “We have a strong, new Democratic majority (in the house),” Ortiz y Pino said. “We have all the momentum right now.
“I think this is the year.”
If all goes according to the senator's plans, the bill should “clear the house by mid-February and when it does, it will come over to the Senate.
"That's when my job will kick in.”
While drafting the updated bill, Ortiz y Pino said New Mexico lawmakers studied similar statues in Arizona, Colorado, and Washington. He stressed the importance of coordinating the correct language in the new bill. The extra diligence played a role in it missing the pre-filing deadline on Jan. 11, 2019.
Attorney: 'I Sense a Change'
Albuquerque attorney and community activist Jason Bowles said he anticipates reading the new bill when it becomes public. He remains confident the workplace protection provision will establish a new national precedent.
“I sense a change,” Bowles said. “The stigma from the '80s is largely gone. It's been a long process of changing attitudes.”
And it starts at the top.
In her first term, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham “is at least open” to the legislation, Ortiz y Pino said. “Her predecessor (Republican Susana Martinez) was adamantly opposed.
Asked the odds of the new bill getting out of the state Senate by the March 16, 2019, conclusion of the new session, Ortiz y Pino said, “Fifty-fifty — I tend to be optimistic.”