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After a failed attempt to legalize adult-use cannabis last year, the New Mexico Legislature is once again taking up the issue, this time placing a greater emphasis on social equity.

RELATED: New Mexico Lawmakers Introduce Competing Adult-Use Cannabis Legalization Proposals

Four legalization bills have been introduced in the legislature to date—two in the Senate and two in the House. Lawmakers are essentially considering three different versions of legalization proposals, as one of the Senate bills is identical to the House version.

“They all have some similarities, but there’s really only one that truly centers [on] equity and social justice, and that is of critical importance to Drug Policy Alliance, but even more so to the communities in New Mexico that have been harmed by prohibitionist policies,” Emily Kaltenbach, senior director of resident states and New Mexico for Drug Policy Alliance, told Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary.

That bill, Kaltenbach said, is House Bill 12, sponsored by Reps. Javier Martinez and Andrea Romero.

“Rep. Martinez has been working on this issue for years,” Kaltenbach said. “He strongly believes that social justice and equity have to be the foundations of a legalization bill. Obviously, we want whatever bill gets through and gets to the governor’s desk to center [on] social justice and equity, and that’s what we’ll be fighting for this session.”

H.B. 12 aims to create diversity in businesses through a microbusiness license type, which would grant companies a head start in the adult-use program, alongside the state’s existing medical cannabis licensees. These licenses would then be scaled, based on the size and type, so that microbusinesses pay less in licensing fees than larger companies.

“In a state like New Mexico, that’s really important because we have a lot of family farms that we’d like to see flourish under a new industry,” Kaltenbach said. “We want to make sure that small businesses have a point of entry into the new industry, where they don’t have to come in with as much capital to participate. So, those licensing provisions are really key and critical.”

The legislation would also require adult-use cannabis operators to develop an equity plan for their businesses, and those with past cannabis-related convictions could not be barred from participating in the industry solely based on that conviction.

In addition, the bill includes provisions that would not only automatically expunge past cannabis-related convictions but would also resentence those who are currently serving time for such crimes.

H.B. 12 also allows for the home cultivation of cannabis and includes language that would protect medical cannabis patients and adult-use consumers from being denied public benefits or health care based on a positive cannabis drug test.

The legislation would also prevent children from being taken from their families, as well as prevent parents from being denied custodial or visitation rights, solely based on the use of cannabis.

The measure would invest funds generated from adult-use cannabis tax revenue back into the communities most impacted by prohibition. The bill calls for a Community Reinvestment Fund, where 35% of excise tax revenue would support qualifying communities.

While Drug Policy Alliance is supportive of all of these provisions, Kaltenbach said the organization would like to see the bill go further in addressing how the state’s tribal nations can participate in an adult-use cannabis market.

“I think that’s really important in a state like New Mexico, where we do have so many sovereign nations, making sure that the nations and tribes also are participating,” she said.

The organization would also like to see more innovative license types, Kaltenbach added, such as a co-op license that would allow local communities to own some of the licenses.

The New Mexico Legislature is just about halfway through its 60-day legislative session, but Kaltenbach believes the cannabis legalization proposals will start moving in the next week or so.

“Time is definitely not on our side, but we’re going to be working hard,” she said.

H.B. 12’s first stop is the House Health and Human Services Committee, which could take up the bill as soon as next week, and then the legislation will go to the House Tax Committee before it moves to the Senate for consideration.

“I believe that we’ll see a lot of negotiations, since there are four different bills, and this is a priority … to see how all of these measures come together, so we can get it to the governor’s desk,” Kaltenbach said. “I think once the House bill moves over to the Senate and the Senate starts hearing those bills, we’ll see the pace pick up.”

Although adult-use legalization has stalled in the past, Kaltenbach said the odds of meaningful policy reform seem better this year, as long as some key disagreements can be resolved.

First and foremost, she said, is the issue of plant counts and whether licensed cultivators should be able to grow a limited or unlimited number of plants in the adult-use program, an issue that has long been contested in New Mexico’s medical program.

“I really think it depends on whether everyone can come to the table and agree on the core provisions and, obviously, whatever bill moves forward, in our opinion, it must center [on] equity and social justice,” Kaltenbach said. “If it doesn’t, it’s a nonstarter for us.”