State lawmakers have approved a series of bills reducing penalties for marijuana possession offenses and strengthening and expanding legal protections for medical cannabis patients. The measures now await action from Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is supportive of the changes.
Senate Bill 323 amends minor marijuana possession penalties. The measure reduces first-time penalties for the possession of up to one-half ounce of cannabis from a criminal misdemeanor — punishable by up to 15 days in jail — to a ‘penalty assessment,’ punishable by a $50 fine. Subsequent offenses, or in instances where the defendant possesses greater amounts of marijuana, remain punishable by the possibility of jail time.
Once signed into law, the reduced penalties take effect on July 1, 2019.
Senate Bill 406 expands medical cannabis access and provides important new patient protections. It expands the pool of patients eligible for cannabis therapy to include those diagnosed with post-traumatic stress, severe chronic pain, Crohn’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, sleep apnea, and neuropathy, among other newly specified conditions. It also enacts explicit legal protections prohibiting employers, social service workers, and hospitals from arbitrarily discriminating against patients solely for their medical cannabis status and/or for their failure to pass a drug test. The measure prohibits regulators from placing limits on the percentage of THC or other cannabinoids in therapeutic products and it establishes reciprocity with other states’ medical cannabis programs.
Separate legislation, Senate Bill 204 establishes regulations and procedures for the storage and administration of certain medical cannabis products to students in school settings.
House Bill 581 regulates the commercial production of industrial hemp and hemp-extract products in a manner that comports with provisions in the 2018 federal Farm Act. Under the legislation, “The department of environment shall issue permits … to extract, process or engage in other manufacturing activities regarding hemp, including manufacturing intermediate hemp-derived products and hemp finished products.” The effective date of the Act is July 1, 2019.
House-backed legislation that sought to legalize the possession of marijuana by adults and regulate its commercial production and sale stalled in the Senate Finance Committee, after the Chair failed to call the bill for a vote. Nonetheless, Gov. Lujan Grisham has announced that she will add the issue to the agenda of the 2020 legislative session.