FARMINGTON – The New Mexico Legislature is looking at legalizing marijuana for recreational use through a bill that was recently passed by two House committees, but some local businesses between Farmington and Durango have reservations, as does local law enforcement.
The bill, sponsored by Reps. Javier Martinez, Andrea Romero and Deborah A. Armstrong, passed the House Health and Human Services Committee on Feb. 15 and passed the House of Taxation and Revenue Committee on Wednesday.
Armstrong said the next step for the bill will be for it to go to the House floor for a vote. If passed, it will go on to the Senate and must pass by the end of the legislative session March 20 or the bill will die. If passed and sent to the governor for her signature, then the bill would go into effect June 18, Armstrong said.
While the idea of legalization might appeal to some, there are some cons to consider. Farmington Police Department spokeswoman Nicole Brown said the department’s No. 1 concern would be an increase in drugged driving and “more deaths and injuries as a result.”
“We don’t take a position on this and will enforce any laws that are passed,” Brown said in an email Wednesday to The Durango Herald.
“We’re prepared to educate and train our officers on any new law changes, just as we are every year following a legislative session,” Brown said.
Martinez said a benefit from the House Bill 12 would be additional funding for drug-recognition programs within police departments.
According to the New Mexico Department of Health, the state has 107,371 patients actively enrolled in the medical cannabis program as of Jan. 31, with 2,196 of those patients in San Juan County.
Jason Little, owner of New Mexico Alternative Care, a medical marijuana dispensary in Farmington, said he’s not sure New Mexico is ready for recreational pot.
“I’m not opposed to recreational, but there has to be more education about marijuana,” Little said.
When Colorado legalized marijuana in 2012, there was about a 35% drop in sales, he said. But now, the tables might turn.
Little said about 50% to 60% of business for Colorado comes from New Mexican purchasers.
William Coening, assistant manager of The Green House in Durango, also said he sees a lot of customers from New Mexico.
“I see a bunch of New Mexico IDs coming in whether they are already here in the area or, you know... ,” Coening trailed off implying customers might come to the area just to buy pot and take it back to New Mexico. “Especially with us being in the Four Corners area, we tend to be a pretty close place for New Mexico customers.”
Coening said he thinks legalization in New Mexico could affect sales in Colorado.
“In the short term, maybe not so much because what I am hearing from New Mexico customers is that bud standard down there (in New Mexico) is not to Colorado level yet,” he said. “But once New Mexico gets their standard leveled out among everyone who has been legalized, then it could definitely be a big player.”
What Coening said he meant by “standard” was the testing and quality of the marijuana plants, including the limited use of pesticides.
Little, in Farmington, boasts that his operation has used strict testing measures before the state required them.
One of his biggest concerns about the state going fully legal is for health and human safety. Little said there’s not enough education for individual growers. And while he said there have been zero deaths related to marijuana consumption, he worries that individual growers might use different pesticides that, if smoked and inhaled, could pose health problems.
On the business end, Little sees a future with a bit lighter wallet.
“I expect recreational legalization to drastically hurt the medical market,” Little said. “I think a lot of the patients will stay patients, but there will be a large percentage to probably not renew medical cards because they don’t want to do the doctor’s visit, the medical evaluation and pay the money – $100 a year to your doctor or whatever it may be. I think there will be a high percentage of fallout.”
Still, Little sees the positives of going fully legal for those who have been waiting for this for so long.
Because the bill might change between now and passing, the tax revenue is not yet known. However, Little said without the revenue from recreational legalization, the state “won’t make it financially without it.”
Little added that he believes crime rates will go down.
“Cannabis will push more and more people to a spiritual living instead of a religious living, in that they will become more in tune with themselves and the Earth,” Little said.
The biggest pro to going full legal, Little said, is freedom.
“We’re getting our freedom back to be able to do what we want as a human being,” Little said. “We kill ourselves with alcohol and pharmaceuticals every damn day, but we can’t smoke weed? We’re getting our freedom back that the government initially stole from us.”