SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has promised to sign legislation that legalizes recreational marijuana use and sales in New Mexico for adults 21 and over.
The changes approved by the Legislature mean almost any adult can grow marijuana at home for personal use — or for profit under a micro-license agreement. The reforms also usher in a new era for marijuana as big business and make fundamental changes in law enforcement.
Many past pot convictions will be wiped off the books, and the smell of weed is no longer grounds for police searches. Here are a few things to know:
The start of recreational cannabis sales is set for April 1, 2022 — no fooling.
Adults 21 and up can buy and carry outside the home up to 2 ounces (57 grams) of cannabis, with separate limits for extracts and edible products.
An ounce of marijuana fills a sandwich bag and can typically be rolled into nearly 30 joints or cigarettes.
Hobbyists can grow up to six marijuana plants for personal use, or 12 per household.
New indoor and outdoor venues for consuming marijuana are coming soon that might resemble bars or lounges. Those “cannabis consumption areas” will be licensed by the state for a fee.
Pot consumption will be allowed in designated hotel rooms, casinos, cigar bars and tobacco stores. In other public places, marijuana consumption will be treated much like alcohol or cigarettes.
Local governments can’t ban pot businesses but they can set zoning requirements for business locations and hours. Existing medical marijuana dispensaries can’t be easily dislodged.
Advocates for medical cannabis patients say current pot prices in New Mexico are among the highest in the country, straining personal finances for some consumers. That should change as new legislation waives retail taxes on medical marijuana.
Chad Lozano, a former advocate for medical patients and future commercial cannabis producer, says prices for recreational marijuana in New Mexico will be relatively high at first compared with other states and should decline as the market matures.
He says state regulators have the authority to limit mass production and charge special licensing fees of up to $50 per plant annually. Those decisions could drive up retail prices.
New Mexico will set up an automated system for reviewing and expunging criminal records for past marijuana activities that are now legal. Lawmakers set aside a half-million dollars for courts to begin the process.
Those past offenses can no longer be used to bar a person from professional licenses or obtaining a job. Rough estimates show about 100 prison inmates might be pardoned.
New expungement and pardon procedures don’t apply to convictions for trafficking large quantities of illicit marijuana.
Past drug convictions won’t bar individuals from starting a licensed marijuana business, though it is a consideration. In the interest of equitable opportunity, the state will issue “micro-licenses” for a small fee for cultivation of up to 200 plants. Those businesses might come to resemble small craft breweries.
The state will levy a 12% excise tax on the sale of marijuana that eventually increases to 18%. That’s before standard taxes on sales of 5-9%.
By conservative estimates, state and local tax income from recreational cannabis will surpass $45 million annually within three years. One-third of revenues goes toward local government.
Lawmakers haven’t decided yet how to spend the money.
Democratic state Rep. Javier Martínez — lead architect of the state’s legalization effort — wants to create a “rural equity fund” to provide support and possibly subsidies to growers from marginalized communities.
Republican state Sen. Cliff Pirtle has proposed using a share of marijuana excise tax dollars to help protect roadways from pot-impaired drivers, including research on drug-sobriety tests.
Democratic state Sen. Jacob Candelaria, an attorney with marijuana-industry clients, suggests directing half of the state income to New Mexico’s multibillion-dollar trust funds for public education and infrastructure.