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New Mexico House passes bill to legalize marijuana

"If you want to dismantle drug cartels, don't build a wall, legalize cannabis," one lawmaker said.

By
Nicholas Sakelaris
Marijuana is sold for recreational use at a cannabis shop in Seattle, Wa. New Mexico could be the next state to make the substance fully legal. File Photo by Jim Bryant/UPI
Marijuana is sold for recreational use at a cannabis shop in Seattle, Wa. New Mexico could be the next state to make the substance fully legal. File Photo by Jim Bryant/UPI | License Photo

March 8 (UPI) -- New Mexico is on its way to becoming the 11th state to legalize marijuana for recreational use after House lawmakers narrowly passed a bill to allow pot sales.

The House passed the bill late Thursday 36-34, with no Republicans voting for it, and sent it to the state Senate.

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Despite the party-line vote, Democratic Rep. Javier Martinez said the bill is bipartisan legislation produced by talks between Senate and House lawmakers. He called the vote a "watershed" moment for New Mexico, which had never before passed any kind of legalization bill for marijuana.

"This is truly a compromise bill," Martinez said.

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The proposal would allow the sale of recreational marijuana to adults 21 and older. If the bill becomes law, pot will mainly be sold at state-run stores, although private businesses could sell it if there's no state-run store nearby. Lawmakers said part of the compromise was ensuring marijuana won't end up in the hands of minors.

Under the proposal, New Mexico residents could possess only 1 ounce of cannabis and would not be allowed to grow their own. They'd also be required to show a receipt that they bought it legally.

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If it's approved by the Senate and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, sales could begin in the middle of next year. Taxes would be about 17 percent.

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Supporters argue legalizing the substance is more effective in fighting the illicit pot trade than an outright ban.

"Prohibition does not work," Democratic Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas said. "Let's put the cartels out of business."

Opponents have raised concerns about possible side effects of making the drug legal, like impaired driving. It also conflicts with federal law.

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"We're ignoring federal law," said Republican House Minority Whip Rod Montoya.

The flow of illegal drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border, which is shared by New Mexico, is a cornerstone of President Donald Trump's call for a security wall from California to Texas. The showdown over funding led to a 35-day federal shutdown in December.

"It is a multi-billion dollar industry that is underground, untaxed and unregulated," Martinez said. "If you want to dismantle drug cartels, don't build a wall, legalize cannabis."

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