By MORGAN LEE – Associated Press
SANTA FE, NM (AP) — New Mexico is bringing recreational marijuana sales to the doorstep of Texas, the largest prohibition state, as the move toward broad legalization sweeps even more of the American West.
Beginning at midnight on Friday, anyone in New Mexico who is 21 years of age or older can purchase up to 2 ounces (57 grams) of marijuana — enough to roll about 60 joints or cigarettes — or comparable amounts of liquid marijuana concentrates and edible treats .
New Mexico has maintained a strict medical marijuana program since 2007. Friday’s changes still represent a sea change for local law enforcement, tax officials, commercial growers and residents who thought full legal access to cannabis was never coming.
Across the state, would-be marijuana farmers are bidding for water rights and learning to grow their first cannabis plants, while veteran medicinal cannabis producers are ramping up production and adding new retail showrooms.
New Mexico is among 18 states that have legalized recreational cannabis, impacting cannabis tourism and conservative Texas, where legalization efforts have made little headway.
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In Clovis, New Mexico, a high plains town of about 40,000 people less than 10 miles from Texas, Earl Henson and two business partners have combined their resources to convert a former gun shop and shooting range into a cannabis store and grow room at one Address on Main Street.
“I can’t explain how happy I am,” said Henson, a former real estate agent who says his affection for marijuana has been a liability in the past. This week he started harvesting the first crop for a cannabis shop called Earl and Tom’s. “I think these cities near Texas are going to transform their economies in the next two years.”
In the state capital, Santa Fe, marijuana is sold across the street from the city’s newly built visitor center in a block lined with galleries, fashion boutiques, and restaurants.
LeRoy Roybal, manager of the cannabis store in downtown Minerva Canna, said he hopes the stigma surrounding cannabis use will quickly disappear.
“I think we’re freeing a lot of hearts and souls,” he said. “It’s going to be like a cup of coffee at Starbucks.”
Supporting lawmakers hope that widespread legalization of marijuana will eradicate black markets, boost employment and create stable new revenue streams for the government.
Consumers will initially rely heavily on supplies from 35 legacy marijuana businesses that have taken root over the past 15 years. Cannabis regulators have issued more than 230 new marijuana business licenses to date — to growers, retailers, and extract and edibles manufacturing facilities.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Thursday that the broad legalization of marijuana is responding to popular demands and creating opportunities for small businesses.
“That’s what consumers want,” said Lujan Grisham, who is running for re-election in November. “We have the potential for 11,000 more workers, jobs in places where young people can work and stay, like Torrance County and Texico and Tucumcari and Raton.”
Local governments cannot ban cannabis stores outright, but they can restrict locations and hours of operation. Public consumption is banned under penalty of a $50 fine for first-time violators.
New business licenses for cannabis cafes or lounges have not yet been applied for — people can indulge in their homes or specific hotels, casinos, and cigar shops.
In southern New Mexico, Mayor Javier Perea of Sunland Park says marijuana dealers can set up anywhere in the small town, which is flanked by the Rio Grande and fenced along the US-Mexico border.
He said about 30 marijuana companies have applied for a permit in the city of just 17,000 people, banking on tourism from nearby El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
Perea hopes the industry will create economic opportunities and tax revenues to boost city services. Local governments get a minority share of the 12% state excise tax on recreational marijuana sales, as well as a share of additional sales taxes. Medicinal cannabis remains tax-free.
“The only thing we’re struggling with is that we’re going to run out of buildings for new businesses,” he said.
Legal experts warn that people who buy cannabis in New Mexico and choose to return home to other states could risk criminal penalties, arrest and imprisonment — especially in Texas.
Paul Armento, deputy director of drug policy group NORML, said Texas is among the leading states for arrests for marijuana possession, and that possession of marijuana concentrate, which is legal in New Mexico, carries a Texas penalty of up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Possession, use, or sale of marijuana remains illegal under federal law — a standard that applies to much of the state and Indian Country in New Mexico.
The New Mexico cannabis industry, which still relies on cash to avoid violating federal law, is gaining access to banking services through an alternative certification system for credit unions and banks, backed by attorney generals.
The state also plans to provide $5 million in soft loans for small cannabis businesses that don’t have access to traditional credit.
New Mexico lawmakers have attempted to reverse the damage caused by marijuana criminalization of minorities and poor households by automatically dismissing or wiping out previous cannabis convictions, promoting social and economic diversity in employment, and financial barriers to new ones companies founded.
The state’s micro-business license to grow up to 200 plants for a flat fee of $1,000 attracts first-time commercial growers, such as recently retired U.S. Marine Kyle Masterson and his wife, Ivy, a Hispanic Army veteran with business consulting experience . They are raising three children and making a midlife career switch to cannabis.
The Mastersons, residents of suburban Rio Rancho, looked to more remote areas for an affordable place to grow high-quality marijuana under lights and settled into a vacant former movie theater in tiny Cuba, New Mexico, at the foot of the Jemez Mountains.
“It felt right, it felt good, and it sprang from a vision of what we could do,” said Kyle, who served in four combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We’re used to working without much guidance in a strict environment and doing our best.”
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New Mexico Launches Cannabis Sales Within Texans’ Reach | health & Fitness
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