NM pot org chief: ‘social justice’ provisions of special session weed bill ‘absolutely required’

On Thursday’s episode of a startup podcast called “New Mexico Grass,” the show featured the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce executive director Ben Lewinger to talk about marijuana legalization and his thoughts on New Mexico politics. The Chamber’s members include Big Pot donors to many legislators’ campaigns, such as PurLife and Nature RX.

During the interview, Lewinger was asked why it has taken so long to get close to a recreational marijuana bill passing. In his answer, he characterized rural areas of the state that lean Republican as stigmatized, claiming, “New Mexico is a hard blue state — a very progressive state, but once you get out of the urban areas of Las Cruces, Albuquerque, and Santa Fe, New Mexico is rural and conservative. And I think still the stigma around cannabis as an illicit substance is very much alive and well.”

He also blasted New Mexico’s citizen legislature, saying, “You know, for several reasons, New Mexico is not a state that is one that is set up to get things done quickly. Right?! We have — we’re the last state that has a volunteer legislature. If you look at, like, you know, California, those are full-time jobs.”

He added, “We’re the last state with volunteer legislators, and they meet 30 and 60 days alternating each year compared to California where it’s like Congress where they’re in session most of the year, and they can just get a lot more done.” 

“I think New Mexico still very much suffers from this idea that we don’t have the same ability to create our own reality as other states do,” said Lewinger. 

Regarding the marijuana proposal’s left-wing social justice aspects, Lewinger said these portions of the bill are “super important” and “absolutely required” for the bill. He said, “We absolutely have to do that.” 

“The way we’re trying to do it creates a mechanism for us to incorporate a lot of the very important social equity pieces, but it doesn’t mean that it’s the easiest way to do it. And that’s why, you know, we worked for several years to figure out how to create this legislative vehicle to get it done,” he said. 

Later in the interview, Lewinger said that he thought the Democrats’ recreational marijuana bill had an 88% to 100% chance of passing during a special session of the New Mexico Legislature. 

When asked about cannabis legalization on the national level, Lewinger said that he doesn’t expect Joe Biden to legalize cannabis nationwide. However, he says he will take it off the “schedule,” thereby decriminalizing it.

Lewinger then said, “I think the next Democratic president — Kamala Harris — will probably legalize cannabis.” 

Gov. Lujan Grisham has announced a special session to commence on March 30 to hash out the marijuana bill, as well as an economic development program, which is likely to extend through Holy Week ahead of Easter.

Read more about Big Pot’s donations to legislators’ campaigns here.

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