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New Mexico hits stalemate on cannabis legalization

March 14, 2021 GMT
A fence is seen surrounding the State Capitol in Santa Fe, on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. Republican lawmakers in New Mexico have asked that the state remove protective barriers erected around the state Capitol following the Jan. 6 insurrection in which supporters of former President Donald Trump broke into the U.S. Capitol building in an attempt to overturn the results of the presidential election. Republicans in the state legislature asked the Legislative Council on Tuesday to remove the fences around the facility, arguing that "the threat has not materialized." (Luis Sánchez Saturno/The New Mexican via AP)
A fence is seen surrounding the State Capitol in Santa Fe, on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. Republican lawmakers in New Mexico have asked that the state remove protective barriers erected around the state Capitol following the Jan. 6 insurrection in which supporters of former President Donald Trump broke into the U.S. Capitol building in an attempt to overturn the results of the presidential election. Republicans in the state legislature asked the Legislative Council on Tuesday to remove the fences around the facility, arguing that "the threat has not materialized." (Luis Sánchez Saturno/The New Mexican via AP)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — State legislators are at a stalemate regarding popular efforts to legalize marijuana in New Mexico with less than a week remaining to send a bill the governor.

A state Senate panel pulled cannabis discussions off its agenda minutes before a Sunday hearing.

Legislators are searching for common ground among advocates for legalization who say the industry would help New Mexico’s economic recovery from the pandemic.

Divergent views on marijuana taxation, licensing and pardon procedures for past convictions are complicating efforts to bring a final bill to a crucial Senate vote.

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New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has set cannabis legalization as a high priority this year as her administration looks for new sources of employment as an antidote to high rates of poverty.

In one camp, Republican state Sen. Cliff Pirtle of Roswell is advocating for a streamlined approach to taxation and regulation aimed at stamping out the illicit market for marijuana and providing easy entry for entrepreneurs.

Successful legislation also is likely to include social justice provisions within a House-approved bill from Democratic state Rep. Javier Martínez of Albuquerque that emphasizes aid to communities adversely affected by marijuana criminalization.

The House-backed bill provides automated pardon and expungement procedures for past marijuana possession charges and convictions. It also would set aside public funds in the future to to underwrite vocation training for cannabis workers, education to prevent substance abuse, and an array of social services in communities battered by policing against illicit drugs.

Legislators have until the close of the regular annual legislative session at noon on March 20 to send bills to the governor. Several diehard opponents to legalization were ousted from the state Senate in 2020 elections.

Negotiations over a legalization bill have faltered as some incumbent medical marijuana producers insist on price supports and a head start in the licensing process to bring recreational-use cannabis to market.

New Mexico can’t approve legislation by ballot initiative and would join a handful of states that have legalized marijuana through the legislative process, including Vermont, Illinois and, soon, Virginia.