It seems that New Mexico is prepared to get its share of the so-called green rush.
While a movement to legalize adult recreational cannabis has been gaining traction for years, proponents believe a bill is likely to reach the desk of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, who supports the effort during the current legislature.
What would legalized cannabis mean for Santa Fe?
While the city would see a surge in tax revenue and job creation through legalization, it would also have to grapple with zoning changes and law enforcement strategies to detect marijuana-impaired drivers.
Much depends on which legislation is approved. Each of several bills introduced in the legislature has its own framework for legalization, including the potential for local authorities to raise taxes.
The most dynamic legislation, House Bill 12, passed the House Floor on Friday and moved to the Senate. If this bill were legally signed, recreational sales would begin January 1st.
The bill would put a 20.4 percent tax cap on cannabis with a state excise tax of 8 percent. Local governments could levy taxes of up to 4 percent. According to some estimates, the bill would generate around $ 24 million annually for some local governments and $ 44 million for the state, although a public finance impact report puts the numbers closer to $ 15 million for the state and Raises $ 8 million for local governments.
Emily Kaltenbach, state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, which supports HB 12, said cities and counties shouldn’t expect to get a grip on cannabis, but legalization could mean more money for money-related programs.
“On-site legalization has a tremendous advantage for local jurisdictions as they gain additional funding that they have not received in the past and the freedom to use it as they see fit in their communities,” she said.
Santa Fe city councilor Signe Lindell said the prospect of more money at a time when the city is grappling with lost revenue during the coronavirus pandemic is an attractive proposition.
“We have a lot of places to spend it,” Lindell said. “We have a hole to dig out of. I hope these are discussions we can have. “
Councilor Michael Garcia said he did not expect a massive spike in recreational cannabis revenue in the city, but think officials need to discuss where the city should invest potential revenue.
He threw ideas like affordable housing, substance abuse prevention, and mental health programs as potential landing spots for funds.
“We want to look at revenue carefully and strategically,” said Garcia. “Where will it have the greatest impact?”
Affordable housing is an area that Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler would also like to have investigated if cannabis is legalized.
“I think it would be good, healthy cash flow,” said Vigil Coppler. “We have to think about it: where are our needs, where should the money be best used and what are the city’s problems?”
Kaltenbach said she sees legalization as an opportunity to address the impact of the cannabis ban on disadvantaged communities.
“Legalization not only has to repair the present and the future, but also repair the damage from the past,” said Kaltenbach.
While the taxes generated would be a huge win, said Ben Lewinger, executive director of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, which supports House Bill 17, a bill tabled by a House Committee, another factor cities should consider is that Business opportunities that the cannabis industry would generate.
Legalization is expected to create 11,000 jobs across the state that are directly related to cannabis. Lewinger assumes, however, that this will create far more jobs, which could bring additional income to cities and business owners.
“All of the adjacent cannabis-related infrastructure will be able to grow in this new industry and run the business they are already doing, just in a new industry,” said Lewinger.
Construction companies, marketing firms, and agriculture-related businesses could find new customers in an emerging cannabis industry, Lewinger said.
Len Goodman was one of the first New Mexicans to be licensed to manufacture medical cannabis in 2007, and he expects more pharmacies to emerge across the city after legalization. However, whether these pharmacies could survive the long haul remains a question mark.
There are currently about 12 medical dispensaries distributed in Santa Fe with three more in the pipeline that Goodman said are likely already more than the city can support.
“That’s the nature of the free market,” Goodman said. “More stores want to open. It’s going to put people out of business. Some will do well; Some will make it worse. The only possible control is from a zoning perspective. “
Lewinger agreed, noting that control for cities is largely how they approach the zoning to control where recreational cannabis stores can open.
“There’s a lot of local control through local zoning ordinances,” said Lewinger.
Lindell said the city “has a lot of work to do” to develop a zoning plan if recreational cannabis is legalized.
“Of course we don’t have anything in the current code,” said Lindell. “This is going to be a whole new edition. It’s going to take a lot of discussion. “
A study of how the city might deal with recreational cannabis has not yet been completed. However, a study should be done in the future when a bill is signed, Councilor Chris Rivera said.
“I try to look at everything from a wide perspective,” said Rivera. “On the economic side, the city will definitely benefit from this additional income coming in. On the bad side, we don’t know what impact this would have on the public. How many people would use it.
“It would still be illegal at the federal level, which is causing some problems in Colorado.”
Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza shares similar concerns. He said his main question was how recreational cannabis might affect the rate of people driving drunk. He noted that there are no tools to determine exactly if a driver is under the influence of marijuana.
“Alcohol, they have machines. For example, you can run tests on the side of the road, ”said Mendoza. “I would hope these problems are all resolved before they put the cart in front of the horse, so to speak.”
There is also no standard level of impairment from marijuana as opposed to alcohol, which has a fixed blood alcohol level. Drivers are prohibited from exceeding these limits or charging fees.
Mendoza said there is drug detection training for law enforcement agencies, but there is a high cost to providing such training to an entire force.
“It’s a difficult science, so you can’t just train a whole police force,” Mendoza said. “That is not possible for tax purposes.”
The Santa Fe Police Department declined to comment.
Garcia said his primary focus is on making sure Santa Fe is safely approaching a potential new cannabis industry.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” said Garcia. “What needs to be ensured is that cannabis, should it be legalized, be practiced in a safe manner.”