Welcome to legal weed, New Mexico!

by Angelica Leicht

Let us be the first to say welcome to legal weed, New Mexico.

In June 2021, Governor Lujan Grisham signed the Cannabis Regulation Act into law, making recreational marijuana legal in New Mexico. There’s still a ton of work to do, but under the law, personal cannabis use became completely and totally legal for adults on June 29, 2021.

This is a huge step for our neighbor to the south, and we’re so excited to have you aboard the cannabis train. You’re going to love the ride. It’s lush, green, and a little skunky, but that’s just the way it is sometimes. Just stop and take in the fresh terpene-d air.

Now that cannabis is legal in New Mexico, adults 21 and older can buy and possess up to 2 ounces of cannabis or 16 grams of cannabis extract, or up to 800 milligrams of edible cannabis, at one time. Residents can have a larger supply in their homes — and they’re free to grow their own cannabis plants.

In other words, it’s awesome in your state these days.

But, as part of the legalization roll-outs across the nation, other states have had to deal with the sticky icky mess that comes from creating a fully legal weed market from nothing.

Between the new legal guidelines, the industry regulations, and other details, the reality is that building a cannabis industry from scratch can get pretty darn messy.

Luckily, Colorado has been the nation’s test case for legal cannabis for the rest of the nation. Every state that has legalized after Colorado has taken a lesson from it — and your state should, too. We’re doing a lot of things right (please excuse the humblebrag), but we aren’t doing it all the best way possible.

So, now that you’re in the infancy of legalization, it could be wise to take a lesson from our fair state. Here are 10 lessons New Mexico can learn from Colorado when it comes to legalization.

Lesson #1: Be grateful for your low and simple weed tax.

The price of legal weed can be shocking — especially if you’re used to paying for nickel bags from some sketchy black market dealer down the street. And, it can be even more surprising when you realize just how much you’re going to be paying in weed tax on top of that eighth of weed from your local dispensary.

The taxes that come with buying recreational weed in Colorado are high — very, very high — and while they’re worth every penny as a trade-off for legal cannabis, the reality is that you need to know what you’re getting into.

For example, when you’re purchasing retail marijuana in the state of Colorado, the purchase you make is subject to three types of taxes: a 2.9% state sales tax, any local sales taxes charged on cannabis purchases, and an additional 15% state marijuana sales tax. Those taxes can add up pretty quickly — and add a hefty sum to the cost of your weed purchase. Trust us.

And, to be fair, we have it pretty good in Colorado. In other states, that THC tax levy can be much, much higher.

The good news is, though, that it won’t be in New Mexico! In fact, New Mexico’s marijuana sales tax plan is simple and modest compared to Colorado. It’s also going to be a lot cheaper initially.

The new New Mexico cannabis levy starts with an initial 12% tax and will eventually increase to a maximum of 18% by July 2030. That’s no small chunk of change, of course, but it’s better than it could be. It’s better than the combined tax in Colorado, anyway.

And, it’s way, way preferable to what’s happening in New Jersey. Unlike New Mexico, it appears New Jersey hasn’t learned as much as it should from Colorado. In fact, it’s planning to tax the heck outta people for legal pot.

Don’t believe us? Well, maybe you’ll trust the numbers instead.

New Jersey has big plans to impose an excise tax that ranges from a low 3% to more than 30%, depending on the average retail price per ounce. And, get this: Lower prices will trigger higher tax rates, so you’re basically incentivized to purchase larger amounts.

Plus, New Jersey will also allow local governments to collect multiple taxes from growers, manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers. Granted, the tax rate will be capped at 2% for each transaction, but holy wow, does that add up between the 30% and the extra local taxes.

So, while it may seem like you’re paying an arm and a leg for pot taxes in your state, just remember that it could be worse. And anyway, those taxes are necessary and useful, though admittedly very costly. They’ll undoubtedly help your state in ways you’d never even imagine — they have for Colorado, anyway — and we’re excited to see what it evolves into.

Lesson #2: Figure out the logistics behind public consumption, weed bars, or other weed-related venues before it’s too late.

One of the ongoing issues in Colorado stems from public consumption. As the legal weed pioneer, we did a lot of things right, and a lot of things not-so-right. For example, we did not figure out a way to let tourists legally and safely consume the products they bought at dispensaries. And, believe it or not, that’s a significant issue.

You’re going to have a ton of pot tourists in your state (more on that below), and they’re going to buy your pot. They’re going to need a place to consume it. Whether that’s a weed “bar,” a cannabis cafe, a private venue, or some other place entirely, the truth is that you need dedicated spots to consume. Just like you do with booze.

Colorado did not take that into account, however, and it’s now an ongoing battle over how to let that happen safely and in a widespread manner. You don’t want people lighting up a joint on the corner (won’t somebody think of the children?!) — and you certainly don’t want hundreds of somebodies doing the same. It can cause issues with people smogging out hotel rooms or other venues, too, which doesn’t go over too well with the management.

So, given that you will have people buying and consuming legal weed, you need to get some sort of public consumption laws sorted out now.

And, it sounds like you may already be on your way. Three recently legal states — New Jersey, New York, and your home state of New Mexico — are already taking a lesson from Colorado and addressing that problem.

New Mexico has plans to allow marijuana use in specially licensed consumption areas. Unfortunately, the rules haven’t been hammered out yet, nor have any licenses been issued. But don’t lose hope, cause it’s coming. And we’ll undoubtedly be taking notes from your state as to how you pulled it off.

For now, though, you are not allowed to smoke in public under the new law. The state will eventually issue those licenses for “cannabis consumption areas,” but until that happens, cannabis use is restricted to private property. Anyone who breaks this law is subject to a $50 civil penalty.

So, don’t smoke on the corner (again, think of the children!!) unless you’re ready to pony up a cool $50 for doing so. It probably ain’t worth the hassle or the cost, though.

Lesson #3: Follow through with expunging pot convictions.

Oh, Colorado. We really screwed this one up. Until very, very recently, Colorado had a very pitiful expungement plan in place for prior pot convictions that were obtained before legalization. That sucked, and it’s classist, and frustrating, and also totally and completely unfair.

We’ve since improved our expungement game, but prior to the passage of a recent bill, Colorado Governor Jared Polis was only able to grant pardons for certain cannabis-related convictions. Polis granted over 2,700 pardons in 2020, but those pardons were limited to 1-ounce convictions, which was the total amount allowed for recreational possession in Colorado at the time.

That will change in the near future, though, and Polis has said he will soon pardon 2-ounce convictions as well. Along with those 2-ounce expungements, the new pot law in Colorado also allows the state to wipe out former Class 3 marijuana cultivation felony convictions and any charges for growing more than 12 plants but fewer than 25.

That ain’t good enough for obvious reasons, but it is what it is for now.

What your state should learn from that, though, is to put better expungement plans in place. You need them.

Unlike Colorado, New Mexico is trying to alleviate the damage done by prohibition. Back in April, Governor Grisham signed into law an expungement measure (Senate Bill 2), which stipulates that those with past convictions for offenses made legal under this act are eligible for automatic expungement of their records. What makes your expungement plan even better is that those who are currently incarcerated for such offenses are eligible for a dismissal of their sentence.

About 150,000 New Mexico residents will be eligible for automatic expungement under this measure, according to the Department of Public Safety.

These expungement programs are so important, so it’s great to see New Mexico taking steps to put a solid plan into place.

Lesson #4: Sober driving laws are about to get very confusing.

On that note, New Mexico is going to need to get all the other crucial cannabis legal regulations ironed out, too. Things like stoned driving can be complicated to handle later down the line, and while it appears that your fair state is ahead of the game with the plan to curb stoned driving, it doesn’t appear to be super clear what that plan is yet.

Unlike other states with legal weed, New Mexico has wisely eschewed defining marijuana-impaired driving based on THC blood levels. These types of tests are not a reliable way to test for someone being intoxicated by cannabis, so that’s a huge step forward. Rather, there will need to be additional evidence of impairment, such as erratic driving and performance on sobriety tests, to be charged with anything. Those field sobriety tests will remain the same as they were when cannabis was prohibited under state law.

That sounds great on paper, but it does open the door to some subjective policing of DUI laws. And, there are various factors that can complicate the issue.

Under New Mexico law, police officers cannot, by law, require a DUI suspect to take a blood test if the charge is no more than a misdemeanor. In your state, the first three DUI convictions are misdemeanors, assuming there are no aggravated circumstances. So, that could get a little sticky without any measure of sobriety for cannabis users.

In Colorado, the threshold for impairment is 5 nanograms of THC. But, as we’ve seen, that ain’t a great system either.

What we’re trying to say here is that while you shouldn’t drive under the influence, it seems like New Mexico doesn’t have a solid plan in place to curb it. What that is, we don’t know. Colorado is at a loss, too. But it would be great if someone could clear it up — and our neighbor to the south would be a perfect test case for it.

If you figure out something that works, let us know. We’re in need of some clarification, too — and have been since 2012, when cannabis was legalized in our state.

For now, though, just know that sobriety laws while driving are going to be confusing, likely frustrating, and almost certainly in a consistent state of flux until we figure it out.

Lesson #5: Prepare yourselves for pot tourism.

Y’all are really close to Texas…like, really close. That prohibition state has plenty of potheads but no legal avenue for buying recreational or medical cannabis — don’t @ me; the medical cannabis program in Texas is a joke — which means you’re soon going to have tourists from that state (and perhaps others) flocking to your dispensaries.

That isn’t a bad thing, mind you. The reality is that cannabis should be available to everyone through legal means, but until it is, potheads are gonna, well, pot.

And, if you look at the numbers, the reality is that pot tourism has served good old Colorado pretty well.

According to research from the Colorado Tourism Office (CTO), about 6.2% of Colorado travelers cited legal marijuana as the main reason for visiting our state. And, those who weren’t incensed to visit Colorado by the legal cannabis market still took advantage of it. A whopping 16% of winter tourists during the 2018-2019 season and about 15% of summer 2018 travelers visited a marijuana dispensary or store while they were here.

You’re undoubtedly going to have the same, if not more, pot tourism traffic. It will clog up dispensaries, cause lines and long waits for a budtender, and maybe even wipe your favorite strain or product off the shelves.

It happens.

The upside to that chaos is that you’ll have a thriving pot market to chill you out. And, look at it this way. It’s pretty awful for people in prohibition states.

They have to worry about traffic stops, or arrests, or felony charges just for having a pot brownie or a jar of wax on them.

We don’t have to deal with that. So, when your dispensaries are overcrowded with Texas license plates, let the fact that you can partake in legal cannabis whenever the heck you want soothe the burn. Trust us. It’s the only way.

Lesson #6: Naysayers will come out of the woodwork — perhaps even years after pot is legal in New Mexico.

Cannabis has been legal in Colorado for nearly a decade. NEARLY A DECADE. That hasn’t stopped people from losing their minds over it, though.

There are always going to be naysayers, and it can happen long after weed has been legal. Just look at some of the legislation that’s been pushed forward in Colorado in recent months. We now have a very firm limit on medical cannabis sales that wasn’t in place prior, and the packaging and warning laws are constantly evolving, too.

And, you won’t just have lawmakers who are trying to put a damper on pot post-legalization. You’ll also have counties, cities, and other municipalities that will have issues with it, too.

Just take a look at Colorado. There are plenty of counties or cities that won’t allow for legal weed shops. Grand Junction is one example. It’s a little ludicrous that there are no dispensaries in a town full of college students, liberal professors, and other human beings who like pot, but maybe they just really like driving all the way to Ridgway to get their weed. Who knows.

It also seems kind of, well, silly, to pass up on that tax revenue, but whatever. That’s the voters’ choice, right?

What we’re trying to convey here is that yes, weed is legal in your state now, but there will still be hurdles and issues that pop up. Take them with a grain of salt, or better yet, get involved. If changes are happening that you can’t tolerate, speak up. It’s the only way to curb these types of issues.

Lesson #7: The fight with bordering states could heat up.

Remember when Colorado legalized cannabis and the surrounding states flipped their proverbial lids? We do — and while it was awesome to watch our lawmakers tell Nebraska and other states to get over it, it wasn’t so great for residents of that state, who were subjected to things like random stops when crossing state lines.

What Colorado learned from legalizing is that not all neighbors want to play nice. And, chances are good that New Mexico will deal with a lot of the same posturing from the prohibition states that border it. It will be annoying, and at times humorous, but mostly it’s going to be incredibly dumb.</ >

There is no reason to try and police adults from driving across state lines to buy weed when it’s legal in one state but not the other. Just be careful not to drive out of your fine state with any cannabis in your car or on your person, and cross your fingers that the states surrounding you will grow up and join this century. These types of issues eventually work themselves out; it just takes a little time. That’s something we’ve learned the hard way.

Lesson #8: Legal weed ain’t your high school ditch weed.

Oooooh, boy. This is a good one.

If you’re bordering Colorado in any form or fashion, you’ve probably driven across state lines to procure some of our fine legal weed. And, when you lit it up, you almost certainly realized how goddang potent it can be.

If you haven’t, you’re going to be in for a big ol’ surprise when legal pot rolls out on the shelves in your state. The weed on the dispensary shelves is going to be much, much more potent than you’ve ever experienced. This is especially important for new partakers and those who have been on hiatus for decades.

Remember those hilarious anecdotes about smokers calling 911 in Colorado to report they were dying after overdoing it? Yeah, those were real things that happened. And, they’re going to happen in New Mexico, too, if you aren’t careful.

When the legal market is a-flowing, just make sure that you start slow, get advice from the budtender, and remember that this isn’t the ditch weed with 6% THC that you remember from high school.

Lesson #9: There could be weed shortages.

Yep, you read that right. There could be weed shortages.

The licensing for recreational dispensaries doesn’t start rolling out until next month, and the sales in the state are slated to start no later than April of 2022. That may seem like it’s a long time away, but it’s really not.

Between September and April, there will need to be a huge uptick in cannabis cultivation to meet the demand. If it doesn’t happen, your state could face a shortage of legal weed like Arizona is facing.

If that happens, try not to panic. The shelves will get replenished, and just remember that you’re surrounded by states with legal markets now, and you can cop some cannabis across state lines.

Ain’t nobody in New Mexico going to stop you now! It’s legal!

Lesson #10: Legal weed is awesome, we’re grateful for it, and chances are good that New Mexico will be, too.

Listen. You may already know this, but legal cannabis has been epic for Colorado. The tax money funds programs that make our state one of the best in the nation, and we were the pioneers of this nationwide push for legal cannabis. There are downsides, of course, but the good has certainly outweighed the bad in Colorado, and it will in New Mexico, too.

Be patient with the process as the laws are defined and the market gets up and running.

We’re excited to see how it affects your state now and in the future.

Only good things, New Mexico. Only good things.

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