Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a pair of bills Monday to legalize recreational marijuana in New Mexico and expunge some criminal records for related offenses, joining a wave of states that have done so in the face of budget shortfalls and complaints that drug policies have disproportionately targeted minority communities.
The move was the latest sign of momentum for a growing number of states that have sought to repeal marijuana prohibition at a local level, even as the drug remains illegal under federal law.
The bills were passed in a special marathon session in the New Mexico legislature March 31, hours after New York finalized its own legislation to allow recreational marijuana.
The New Mexico legislation allows anyone 21 years or older in the state to have up to two ounces of marijuana in public and as many as six plants at home.
Companion legislation signed by the Democratic governor automatically expunges arrest and conviction records for some marijuana offenses that will no longer be illegal after the prohibition repeal.
In a statement, Lujan Grisham said the legislation would benefit workers, entrepreneurs, consumers and those “who have been harmed by this country’s failed war on drugs, disproportionately communities of color.”
What To Watch For
Commercial sales of marijuana are to start before April 2022 under the legislation and will be subject to an initial tax of 12%, which will eventually be raised to 18%. Marijuana businesses will also face so-called gross receipt taxes of between 5% and 9%. The sales tax alone could generate tens of millions of dollars in government revenue, according to rough estimates by the Tax Foundation.
Most state Republicans objected to the legislation, arguing marijuana legalization could threaten public health. “Recreational marijuana would lead to even more crime, underage use, and impaired driving,” Steve Pearce, the chairman of the Republican Party of New Mexico, said in a statement.
The legislation made New Mexico one of the 16 states where marijuana has been legalized for adults, in addition to Washington, D.C. More states are expected to follow suit. Virginia is also poised to legalize marijuana as soon as this July, three years earlier than had originally been planned. “These changes will ensure we do it with a focus on public safety, public health, and social justice,” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said as he asked lawmakers to amend a bill passed this year that had envisioned legalization in 2024. Despite increasing support among Democrats and even some Republicans, President Joe Biden has said he would favor a reduction in marijuana penalties over legalization at a federal level. (The White House acknowledged this month that it had fired five staffers for past use of drugs, including marijuana.)