New Mexico becomes the third state this year to approve recreational marijuana legalization

On April 12, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) signed House Bill 2 (HB 2) to legalize recreational marijuana. 

HB 2 made New Mexico the third state to approve recreational marijuana legalization in the last two weeks. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a marijuana legalization bill on March 31, and, on April 7, the Virginia General Assembly approved Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) amended legalization proposal.

HB 2 allows the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana, 16 grams of concentrated marijuana, and 800 milligrams of edible cannabis. It allows each person to grow up to six mature and six immature marijuana plants, with a limit of 12 mature plants per household. Local governments will be allowed to pass laws regulating certain commercial activity and density. 

Marijuana sales will be taxed at 12% through July 1, 2025. After 2025, the tax will increase by one percentage point annually until it reaches 18% in 2030. One-third of revenue will go to the city in which the sale occurred, one-third to the county, and the other third will be distributed by future legislation.

Provisions of HB 2 without specified timelines, such as legalization of possession and use, will go into effect 90 days after the legislative session adjourns, estimated to be around July 1. The bill also establishes the Cannabis Control Division to regulate and license commercial marijuana activity. The division must establish a date to begin legal marijuana sales starting no later than April 1, 2022.

Another bill, Senate Bill 2, provided for the expungement of certain marijuana-related convictions for activities made legal by HB 2.

New Mexico was the fifth state to approve legalized recreational marijuana through legislative action rather than a voter-approved ballot measure. Including New Mexico, 17 states and D.C. have enacted marijuana legalization. The first nine states to legalize recreational marijuana did so through ballot initiatives. An additional 13 states have decriminalized recreational marijuana usage.

South Dakota voters approved a recreational marijuana legalization initiative in 2020, but it was ruled unconstitutional. Proponents said they would appeal the ruling to the state supreme court.

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New York becomes third state to legalize recreational marijuana through legislative action instead of a ballot measure

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a bill on March 31 legalizing recreational marijuana and allowing resentencing for those convicted of certain marijuana-related charges.

Both chambers of the legislature passed the bill (Assembly Bill 1248/Senate Bill 854) on March 30.

New York became the 15th state to legalize recreational marijuana. In addition, South Dakota voters approved a marijuana legalization initiative in November 2020, but it was overturned by a circuit court ruling, which was appealed to the South Dakota Supreme Court. Fifteen additional states have decriminalized recreational marijuana.

New York was the third state, after Vermont and Illinois, to legalize recreational marijuana through legislative action instead of a voter-approved ballot measure. The first nine states to legalize recreational marijuana did so through citizen-initiated ballot initiatives. 

Responding to legalization in New York, Steve Hawkins, executive director at the Marijuana Policy Project, said, “We expect 2021 to be a record-breaking year for legislatures legalizing cannabis.” 

Marijuana laws in the United States

Details of New York’s bill:

The bill allows the possession of up to three ounces of marijuana and allows each person to grow up to three mature marijuana plants with a cap of six mature plants per household. The legalization of possession and home-grow goes into effect immediately.

The bill establishes the Office of Cannabis Management to license and regulate recreational marijuana retail and distribution. The new office will also take over the regulation of medical marijuana sales. The office will be run by a board consisting of three members appointed by the governor, one member appointed by the Assembly, and one appointed by the Senate. The bill does not establish a specific date by which legal recreational marijuana sales would begin, but state officials estimated it would be between 18 months and two years. The bill also establishes an advisory board for the office.

The bill will create expungement and resentencing processes for anyone convicted on a charge that is no longer a crime under the new law. It would also allow for the expungement of certain convictions that occurred prior to the state’s 2019 decriminalization law but for which sentences were reduced or removed by decriminalization.

The bill provides for a 13% excise tax on retail marijuana sales. It also enacts a tax ranging from $0.03 to $0.08 per milligram of THC for wholesale to dispensaries. Gov. Cuomo’s office estimated revenue of $350 million annually. Revenue above what is required for administration and enforcement would be allocated to the Community Grants Reinvestment Fund, general education through the State Lottery Fund, the Drug Treatment and Public Education Fund, and local municipal and county governments.

The bill allows for cities, towns, and villages to pass local laws prohibiting certain retail establishments and regulating certain aspects of the operation of retail establishments. The bill also contains a process for local voters to overturn local legislation banning recreational marijuana retail.

Comparing New York’s bill with legalization measures in other states

Among the 13 marijuana legalization ballot measures that have passed in other states, all but one explicitly allowed a certain amount of local government control over marijuana regulation. Excise taxes on marijuana sales ranged from an initial rate of 3.75% (subject to increase) in Massachusetts to 25% in Washington. The average tax rate was about 13%. The New Jersey ballot measure applied the state’s sales tax to marijuana but prohibited an additional excise tax.

Seventeen states and D.C. have enacted laws expunging past marijuana convictions, sealing marijuana crime records, or establishing set-aside policies that apply to marijuana-related convictions.

For a comparison of details on possession limits, tax rates, home grow regulations, local control, and revenue allocation among all recreational marijuana ballot measures approved so far, click here.

As of March 2021, 15 states and Washington, D.C., had legalized marijuana for recreational purposes. Eleven states and D.C. did so through citizen initiatives, one through a legislatively referred constitutional amendment, and three, including New York, through bills approved by state legislatures and signed by governors. An additional 15 states had decriminalized recreational marijuana usage. Based on 2019 population estimates, roughly 40% percent of Americans lived in a jurisdiction with legalized recreational marijuana as of March 2021.

In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana when voters approved legalization initiatives.

In January 2018, Vermont was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana without voters approving a citizen initiative. Illinois was the second state to legalize recreational marijuana without a voter-approved citizen initiative.

In 2020, New Jersey was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana through voter approval of a legislatively referred measure, rather than a citizen-initiated one.

Montana voters to decide five ballot measures related to firearms, marijuana, and the initiative process in November

Montana voters will decide five statewide ballot measures on November 3 concerning firearms, marijuana, and the ballot initiative process.

The two citizen initiatives on the ballot—CI-118 and I-190—were sponsored by New Approach Montana and are designed to legalize recreational marijuana in the state. CI-118 would amend the Montana Constitution to authorize the legislature or a citizen initiative to set a legal age for marijuana purchase, use, and possession. I-190 would enact a law that would legalize the possession and use of marijuana for adults over the age of 21, impose a 20% tax on marijuana sales, require the Department of Revenue to develop rules to regulate marijuana businesses, and allow for the resentencing or expungement of marijuana-related crimes.

The tax revenue generated would be allocated as follows:

  1. 49.5% to accounts for wildlife, parks, and recreation
  2. 10.5% to the state’s general fund
  3. 10% to an account for drug treatment
  4. 10% to local authorities to enforce the provisions of the law
  5. 10% to an account for Montana veterans
  6. 10% to an account to fund wage increases for healthcare workers

Pepper Peterson, a spokesperson for New Approach Montana, said, “Our research has always shown that a majority of Montanans support legalization, and now voters will have the opportunity to enact that policy, which will create jobs and generate new revenue for our state. It also means that law enforcement will stop wasting time and resources arresting adults for personal marijuana possession, and instead focus on real crime.”

According to the latest campaign finance data filed on September 30, New Approach Montana reported receiving $6.95 million in contributions, including $4.7 million from the North Fund (a D.C. based nonprofit) and $1.9 million from the national New Approach PAC.

There is one committee registered in opposition to the initiatives—Wrong for Montana. The campaign reported receiving over $78,000 in contributions. Steve Zabawa, the treasurer of the Wrong for Montana campaign, said, “All you have to do is go to Colorado for a test site. They’ve been up and running now for eight years, and if you look at the traffic accidents, you look at the emergency room, you look at the vagrants, you look at the activity in the black market as well as the regular market down there, it has just exploded.”

Montana voters will also vote on a legislative referral that would remove local governments’ authority to regulate the carrying of permitted concealed weapons. The ballot measure would continue to allow local governments to regulate unpermitted concealed weapons and unconcealed weapons in public occupied buildings.

LR-130 would also remove local governments’ power to regulate the possession of firearms by “convicted felons, adjudicated mental incompetents, illegal aliens, and minors.”

According to the text of the measure, it was designed “to secure the right to keep and bear arms and to prevent a patchwork of restrictions by local governments across the state.”

Montana Governor Steve Bullock (D) came out in opposition to the measure saying, “[LR-130] would end local decision-making about whether felons and the mentally ill can carry weapons in public. It would also end local decision-making about concealed weapons. Both changes are dramatic departures from Montana history. Neither is good policy. Montana law already contains strong protections that totally prohibit localities from restricting our basic right to keep and bear arms. […] I see no reason to reassign that power to decision-makers in Helena.”

Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, said, “Bullock is effectively arguing that a felon who would disregard committing another federal felony and disregard a state law prohibiting guns in schools would be deterred from bringing guns into schools if only local governments are allowed to enact an ordinance for a local misdemeanor prohibiting that conduct. Right, as if felons spend their time first reading and then complying with local ordinances.”

Ballotpedia identified one committee—NRA Big Sky Self-Defense Committee—in support of LR-130 that raised $16,000 from the NRA Institute for Legislative Action. There is one committee—No on LR-130—that reported nearly $1 million in contributions with its largest contribution from the Montana Federation for Public Employees ($803,369.27).

The legislature also referred two constitutional amendments to the ballot—C-46 and C-47. The measures would not alter currently enforced initiative signature distribution requirements but would amend constitutional language to match the signature distribution requirements currently enforced.

A distribution requirement is a statutory or constitutional mandate requiring that petitions for a ballot measure or candidate nomination must be signed by voters from different political subdivisions in order for the ballot measure or candidate to qualify for the ballot.

For an initiated constitutional amendment in Montana, proponents must collect signatures equal to 10 percent of the qualified electors in each of two-fifths (40) of the state’s 100 legislative districts. C-47 would amend the constitutional language to match these signature distribution requirements for initiative petitions.

For an initiated state statute or a veto referendum in Montana, sponsors must collect signatures equal to 5 percent of the qualified electors in each of one-third (34) of the state’s legislative districts. C-46 would amend the constitutional language to match these requirements.

The signature distribution requirements for initiated state statutes, veto referendums, and initiated constitutional amendments were changed in the state constitution to a county-based requirement with the passage of two voter-approved constitutional amendments, C-37 and C-38, in 2002. The 2002 county-based requirements were later ruled unconstitutional. Based on a ruling from Attorney General Mike McGrath, the distribution requirements in the constitution prior to 2002 were re-enforced. The invalidated language, however, remained in the state constitution.

The deadline to register to vote is October 26. Late registration, which is conducted at county election offices, begins on October 27 and continues through election day. Polls will be open from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm on election day. Mail-in ballots must be received by 8:00 pm on election day.

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