Medical use was legalized in 2007 through a bill signed by Gov. Richardson. A 1978 law also allowed for medical use but only through a federally-approved research program. It was the first medical cannabis law enacted by any state.
In 1923, New Mexico banned the cultivation, importation, and sale of cannabis. The Santa Fe New Mexican 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.
Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Act (1978)
In 1978 New Mexico became the first state to pass legislation allowing the medical use of cannabis in some form. Known as the Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Act, the bill allowed the use of cannabis through a research program approved by the Food and Drug Administration, using cannabis supplied by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The bill was spurred by the efforts of cancer patient Lynn Pierson, who found relief from using cannabis and pleaded his case to state lawmakers that he should be allowed to use the drug. His efforts were rewarded in February 1978 when the bill was signed into law, following its passage in both chambers of the legislature by wide margins. However, the program still required federal approval, which would not come until August 1978, shortly after Pierson died due to his illness. The approval was then rescinded a few weeks later, but in November 1978 the final go-ahead was given, and cannabis was delivered to the state two months later. Between 1978 and 1986, approximately 250 cancer patients received either cannabis or THC through the Lynn Pierson Therapeutic Research Program (named in honor of Pierson after his death).
Gov. Johnson endorses legalization (1999)
In 1999, Republican Gov. Gary Johnson set off a political firestorm in the state when he endorsed the policy of drug legalization. In particular, Johnson called for the legalization of cannabis and said that the drug's dangers had been significantly exaggerated. His comments regarding legalization were soon condemned by various law enforcement officials, the lieutenant governor, and the Republican Party. Darren White, the secretary of the New Mexico Department of Public Safety, resigned in protest. Drug czar Barry McCaffrey even made a special trip to Albuquerque to denounce the governor's comments which he called "astonishing and embarrassing". Johnson did not back down, however, and continued to advocate for legalization as he finished out his second term. He became the highest-ranking elected official in the country to endorse such a position.
Medical use legalized (2007)
In April 2007, Gov. Bill Richardson signed into law Senate Bill 523, the "Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act". The bill allowed the use of cannabis with a physician's recommendation for treatment of certain medical conditions such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and some spinal-cord injuries. In later years the list of qualifying conditions was expanded, and an allowance for cultivation by patients was added as well. Senate Bill 523 passed the Senate by a vote of 32–3 and the House by a vote of 36–31, making New Mexico the 12th state to legalize medical use and the 4th to do so through an act of state legislature.
House approves legalization (2019)
In March 2019 the House of Representatives voted 36–34 to pass a recreational legalization bill (House Bill 356), the first time that either chamber of the legislature had approved such a measure. The bill then stalled in the Senate Finance Committee, but Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that she would add the issue to the legislative agenda for the upcoming year.
In April 2019, Gov. Lujan Grisham signed into law Senate Bill 323. The bill made first-time possession of up to a half ounce a petty misdemeanor offense, punishable by a $50 fine. It also decriminalized possession of drug paraphernalia, making New Mexico the first state to do so. SB 323 passed the House by a 44–20 vote and the Senate 30–8. It went into effect on July 1, 2019.
Cannabis Legalization Working Group (2019)
In June 2019, Gov. Lujan Grisham announced the formation of the Cannabis Legalization Working Group to determine the best path forward for legalization during the 2020 legislative session. Said Grisham: "This group will ensure we begin the next session with a credible, equitable, and cohesive legalization proposal that will incorporate all public safety concerns, workplace regulations, labeling requirements that protect underage children, and all manner of other issues." The working group consists of over 20 individuals from varying backgrounds including state lawmakers, cabinet secretaries, law enforcement officials, and medical cannabis executives.
The Cannabis Legalization Working Group released a report detailing its recommendations in October 2019. "Through more than 30 hours of public meetings across the state, and with the help of more than 200 pages of public comment, the members explored every aspect of legalization, both good and bad," said the chair of the working group, Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis.
County and municipal reforms
Santa Fe decriminalization (2014)
In August 2014, Santa Fe City Council voted 5–4 to enact (rather than let go to ballot) a citizen-led petition to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis. The law allows police to issue a $25 civil citation for possession of up to an ounce, and requires that minor cannabis offenses be made the lowest police priority.
Bernalillo and Santa Fe county referendums (2014)
In November 2014, voters in Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties approved (with 60% and 73% of the vote) ballot measures expressing support for "county, city, and statewide efforts to decriminalize possession of one ounce or less of marijuana". Initially the referendums were blocked from appearing on the ballot by Secretary of State Dianna Duran (who claimed that state law did not allow for non-binding questions), but the Supreme Court of New Mexico overruled her in September 2014.
Albuquerque decriminalization (2018)
In April 2018, Albuquerque City Council voted 5–4 to allow police to issue a $25 civil citation for possessing up to an ounce of cannabis. Previous efforts to decriminalize through a city council vote (in 2015) and a ballot measure vote (in 2014) were vetoed by the prior mayor Richard Berry.
Santa Fe legalization resolution (2018)
In December 2018, Santa Fe City Council approved a resolution calling on state lawmakers to "enact legislation related to the legalization ... of cannabis and cannabis-related products for recreational use". The resolution was introduced by Mayor Alan Webber and passed by a 6–1 vote.
Las Cruces legalization resolution (2020)
In February 2020, Las Cruces City Council approved a resolution urging the state legislature to pass the Cannabis Regulation Act to legalize recreational cannabis in New Mexico. The resolution passed 6–1 with Mayor Ken Miyagishima casting the only opposing vote.
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