A Democrat-backed bill to legalize adult-use marijuana in New Mexico overcame its first obstacle when the Senate Public Affairs Committee voted 4-3 in favour of advancing it.

Committee members voted along party lines for the proposed legislation, which would also subsidize medical marijuana and automatically expunge many past cannabis convictions.

Sen. Jerry Ortez y Pino and Rep. Javier Martinez introduced SB 115 and companion bill HB 160, known as the Cannabis Regulation Act. SB 115 passed through the Senate Public Affairs Committee late Tuesday after a passionate debate.

Ben Lewinger, executive director of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, urged legislators not to waste precious time in ushering in a new era of legal sales, arguing that cannabis is “the future”.

Allen Sanchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, hit back, claiming the proposed legislation is “the worst possible option at the worst possible time”. His organization has teamed up with Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and Smart Approaches to Marijuana to oppose legalization.

Yet Sen. Jacob Candelaria is confident that New Mexico can be the third U.S. state to legalize adult-use marijuana via the legislature.

Most states have legalized recreational cannabis use after putting the matter to a public vote, but Vermont and Illinois simply went down the legislative route. Candelaria, a medical marijuana patient, believes New Mexico can follow in their footsteps in 2020.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is a passionate advocate of marijuana legalization. It featured as the number one economic priority when she laid down the agenda for a 30-day legislative session that began last week.

Grisham called upon lawmakers to legalize recreational cannabis use, and Martinez and Ortez y Pino responded by introducing the bills. There are just three weeks remaining to get proposed legislation on Grisham’s desk, and the pressure will be on to push the bills through the various committees in the days ahead.

The governor was delighted to see SB 115 pass its first test. “Recreational cannabis will be the next frontier of our economic expansion, creating 11,000 jobs across New Mexico and true economic potential for every part of the state,” she said.

Polls suggest that three-quarters of New Mexicans back legalization.

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