Bill would amend current law to allow lawmakers into cannabis biz early

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Back in 2021, before voting to make recreational use of cannabis legal, lawmakers on the Senate floor barred any lawmaker serving at that time from getting a commercial cannabis license until 2026. Lawmakers debating the provision that year brought up potential conflicts of interest among voting lawmakers who might have plans to participate in a future cannabis industry. 

Now, lawmakers have removed that prohibition in a bill that is making its way through the Senate. The Senate Judiciary committee last week created a substitute bill that included the change. 

Senate Bill 6 contains numerous changes to the cannabis regulation act, which its sponsor, Sen. Katy Duhigg, said stem from lessons learned in the almost three years cannabis has been legal in New Mexico. Duhigg said she was carrying it on behalf of the agency that regulates cannabis companies. 

The original bill this year kept the prohibition on lawmakers who voted on legalization in 2021 from getting into the cannabis business until 2026.

Lawmakers on the judiciary committee discussed several changes to the bill, including one that would outlaw cannabis sales through drive-up windows, but skipped right over the change allowing them to open cannabis businesses two years early. 

The bill later in the week passed the Senate Finance committee, where Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, questioned why the prohibition was removed.

“It removed a little bit of conflict of interest,” Steinborn said. “…we have lots of conflicts in our Legislature and this would be an exception to that if we left it in.”

Duhigg told Steiborn the change wasn’t part of the “scope” of the bill proposed by the agency, but had been added by lawmakers in the Judiciary committee. 

“It looks terrible that it is now being taken out,” Duhigg later said to New Mexico In Depth, but amending the bill to add the prohibition back wasn’t her priority. She said it looked bad to her personally, but that when she carries an “agency bill” she defers to the agency. And in this case, she said, the agency didn’t care “one way or the other.” 

In 2021, as cannabis legalization was being debated, and about to pass on the Senate floor, former senator Stuart Ingle, a Republican from southeast New Mexico, added an amendment barring any lawmakers serving at that time from applying for or obtaining a license that would allow them to open a cannabis business until July 2026. 

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Javier Martinez, a Democrat from Albuquerque who is now Speaker of the House, said he understood and agreed with the sentiment of the amendment, but that he didn’t want it on the bill. 

“While I agree with you 100% that we shouldn’t be the ones who can jump in there, you know, on the effective date and be first in line for these things,” Martinez said in 2021, “… I just think it sets a bad precedent in terms of us being a citizen legislature, and everything that comes with being a citizen legislature.”

Lawmakers in New Mexico aren’t paid a salary, so those who aren’t retired must work for a living, and do so in a wide variety of industries. 

Sen. Mark Moores, Republican from Albuquerque, spoke up that day, saying that members of the Senate were particularly sensitive to conflicts of interest because of the corruption case of former senator Phil Griego, who was convicted in 2017. Griego, while a senator, helped steer the sale of a government property in Santa Fe, from which he later earned a $50,000 broker’s fee.  

Moores asked that sponsors of the bill state whether they intended to open a cannabis company. Martinez had already stated he did not have plans to do so, then or in the future, and asked that any senator disclose if they have any financial interests in the budding cannabis business. Moores in turn said he did not. 

Duhigg was a co-sponsor of the 2021 legislation, and at that time said she didn’t have any financial interest in the future cannabis industry. An attorney, Duhigg several months later opened a law practice specializing in cannabis (In 2023, another law firm announced she had joined them, and do not list her in their cannabis division). She asked Moores during that 2021 discussion to ask Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, whether he had a conflict of interest, since Pirtle sponsored a separate bill making cannabis legal. Pirtle had already stood to announce agreement with Ingle’ proposed amendment, and later said he didn’t have plans to benefit financially from the cannabis industry. 

Moores, Pirtle and Duhigg are all members of the Senate Judiciary committee today. Moores and Pirtle have both announced retirement from the Senate. Moores and Pirtle voted yes for the amendment in 2021, Duhigg voted no. Other members of the committee voting in 2021 were Democrats Daniel Ivey-Soto and Joseph Cervantes, and Republican Greg Baca, all yes on the amendment, and Democrats Peter Wirth, Mimi Stewart and Bill O’Neill, all no. 

The bill is scheduled to be heard by the full Senate today. 

This story has been changed to reflect concerns by a senator that we had misquoted her about her knowledge of who amended this bill on the Senate side.

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