Cannabis in New Mexico, a century of change
The use of cannabis has a long history in New Mexico, dating back to the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. The Spanish brought with them their own customs including using cannabis in their traditional ways.
In 1912, New Mexico became the 47th state in the union. At that time, cannabis was not yet regulated or restricted. Cannabis continued to be used by local populations for medicinal and recreational purposes. Various forms of medicinal cannabis were available in local pharmacies and apothecaries. However, laws began to change early in the 20th Century.
Following the trend of many other states, in 1923 the State of New Mexico prohibited the sale, cultivation and importation of cannabis. Mere possession was not expressly prohibited but anyone found in possession was presumed to have imported their marijuana illegally. The Santa Fe New Mexican, hometown newspaper of the bill’s sponsors, noted:
The Santa Fe representative, however, had better luck with his bill to prevent sale of marihuana, cannabis indica, Indian hemp or hashish as it is variously known. This bill was passed without any opposition. Marihuana was brought into local prominence at the penitentiary board’s investigation last summer when a convict testified, he could get marihuana cigarettes anytime he had a dollar. The drug produces intoxication when chewed or smoked. Marihuana is the name commonly used in the Southwest and Mexico (Santa Fe New Mexican, 1923).
In 1978, New Mexico became the first state to enact legislation acknowledging the medicinal value of cannabis. Lynn Pierson, a patient activist suffering from testicular cancer, pleaded his extraordinary case to the New Mexico lawmakers. These efforts allowed for the Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Act to be passed. A state-wide research program was established, allowing federal supplies of cannabis to be used as treatment for cancer and glaucoma patients.
The next notable change to cannabis regulation in New Mexico was almost 30 years later in 2007. In an act recognizing Lynn Pierson and Erin Armstrong, New Mexico legalized medical cannabis through the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act (SB 523). New Mexico became the 12 state to allow the regulated use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
Governor Bill Richardson signed the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act into law. By a physician’s recommendation, patients suffering from glaucoma, cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and HIV/AIDS qualified for this aid.
In 2019, SB 323 increased employment protection and decreased the penalties for possession of cannabis and drug paraphernalia. Also, SB 406 aided in expanding patients’ civil rights and increasing the range of medical conditions for inclusion in the state medical cannabis program. Medical cannabis use for students was now authorized and current exemptions from criminal and civil liability were provided. Protection around child custody and medical care, such as organ transplants, were all established by the end of 2019.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed HB 2 into law on April 12, 2021, effective June 29, 2021. Cannabis was now available for medical patients and available as recreational to all residents of legal age given the following guidelines:
- Anyone 21 years or older can possess up to two ounces of cannabis, sixteen grams of concentrate, 800 mg of edible cannabis and cultivate up to six mature plants (12 plant max per household)
- Retail sales of cannabis began April 2022
- No current restrictions on the number of retail license issued by the state
- Public consumption remains illegal. However, licensed businesses are permitted to offer on-site consumption areas
April 1, 2023, marks one full year of recreational cannabis in New Mexico. According to the NM regulation and licensing department, 626 retailer licenses have been approved along with 499 manufacturer licenses. What amazing growth for an industry prohibited a century ago.
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Written by Veronica Martinez Dana Neverdousky, MT(ASCP): March 2023