Okay, for the sake of this discussion let’s get a few things on the table. I am unabashedly a libertarian. The Cannabis Regulation Act also known as Senate Bill 577 is not how I would personally choose to write the law, but we haven’t elected any Libertarians to office in New Mexico to enact such legislation…yet. If I were elected the Libertarian governor of New Mexico, the bill that I would request from the legislature and would sign as governor would be one line – that the use of cannabis by adults over the age of 21 in New Mexico is legal – that’s it. That’s all it would say because I believe that the free market is capable of regulating the industry and I have faith in adults to make the right decisions for their own lives. (As your Libertarian governor I would also exercise the power of the governor to immediately pardon and release all of those that are serving sentences for marijuana convictions).
That said, I believe SB 577 represents a compromise that achieves the four most important goals for legalizing the adult use of cannabis in New Mexico. Those goals are:
- Stop putting people in cages for executing their Liberty to choose to consume a plant.
- Protect the ability of those that need cannabis as medication to obtain that medication.
- Avoid establishing another government derived monopoly such as we’ve seen with liquor licensing.
- Eliminate the criminal control of a black-market system.
Like I said, I do not think that this bill is the best way to achieve those goals, but I do think that this bill sets up a regulatory compromise for those pro-government persons that have less faith in free markets or in people to govern themselves. It is beyond argument that the only reason that government regulation should exist is to protect the health, safety and welfare of our citizens, any regulation that does more than that is unnecessary and is likely for the benefit of protecting industry not the people. In establishing a public member commission to oversee that regulation, this legislation should yield a regulatory framework that is designed to protect children from potential harm and to ensure product safety standards to protect the public from unsafe products.
But the 800-pound gorilla that everybody is talking about grappling with is the concept of state managed consignment retail stores for cannabis. I will be the first to admit that when first presented with this concept I immediately had the same reaction that most people do; that this is just the opportunity for more of the corruption that plagues New Mexico. I have since changed my mind. New Hampshire and Florida were recently ranked as two of the most free states in the country. New Hampshire has state-run liquor stores. In New Hampshire and Utah if a producer of liquor or beer wishes to sell their product, they obtain a permit to place their items on the shelf of the store at the price that they wish to. Anybody that can meet the demand for the supply and product standards is allowed the opportunity to sell their product. In New Mexico, this is the antidote to the liquor license industry that we have that makes entry into the market almost impossible for the average person that wants to go into that business. Instead with cannabis, a person that wishes to produce cannabis products will not have to experience the cost of brick-and-mortar for retail space, the expense of paying retail employees or assume the risk of selling to an underage person. In exchange the state will be more able to regulate product content packaging and other items necessary for protecting the health, safety and welfare of New Mexico citizens and children. And the state will be able to regulate the placement of stores in a way that does not cause the issues and problems experienced in places such as Colorado and Oregon.
Again, do I think that this is the ideal way to handle this? No, but I do think it is a solution to avoid the cronyism normally associated to the licensing process in New Mexico and ultimately think that this presents a better opportunity for a small business start-up in this space.
The other big area of concern is protecting the medical cannabis patients’ ability to obtain needed medication. SB 577 does this by incentivizing existing medical producers to continue production in exchange for early entrance into the recreational market and in conjunction with Senator Ortiz y Pino’s medical cannabis tax legislation which avoids taxation on this medication.
Good legislation is the product of compromise that achieves the primary goals discussed above in a manner that addresses the concerns of the citizens without giving preference to one viewpoint over another. This bill balances the concerns of Republicans for protecting our children and our communities from the harmful side effects of legalization, with the concerns for social justice of Democrats and the concerns of Libertarians regarding a regulatory system that fosters cronyism. But most importantly, it represents a major step towards restoring the liberty for adults to choose what they consume without having to worry about being put in a cage, which is a point on which a vast majority of New Mexicans agree. In this age of hyper partisan politics, it is refreshing to see members of our New Mexico legislature willing to compromise to pass legislation, especially given the word around the Roundhouse that Governor Lujan-Grisham does not want cannabis legalization legislation to reach her desk so that it can remain a campaign issue for her re-election in 2022. The debate on whether we should legalize adult use of cannabis in New Mexico is over. It is time to figure out an intelligent compromise to reflect the will of New Mexicans. SB 577 is the best legislation proposed to accomplish that will. Please encourage your legislators to continue the bipartisan effort to pass this legislation.
It should be abundantly clear to everybody based upon Sunday’s Op-ed by Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce (the title of which should have read “Old Man Pearce yells at people to get off the grass”) that we face two alternatives, 1) pragmatic compromise to stop caging people for consuming a plant, 2) or the continued fascism of the failed war on drugs.
It is time to move forward instead of living in the Dark Ages like Steve Pearce.
Editor’s Note: A. Blair Dunn is a former Libertarian candidate for Attorney General and is currently seeking the Chairmanship of the Libertarian Party of New Mexico.