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Gov’s marijuana group sends up red flags

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The governor’s new working group created to come up with legislation to legalize marijuana in New Mexico should send up many red flags for anyone who believes in honest government.

First, let me state that I am not attempting to wade into the shark-infested waters of saying whether pot should be legalized. I am only focusing my comments on the working group charged with crafting possible legislation.

Last week, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the members who will make up her working group. Make no mistake, this group of people has been handpicked because of their ties to the marijuana industry or their pro-legalization stance.

She has put the matter on the docket for January’s legislative session but it may still be a difficult task, even though her working group already appears to be high on believing in its own success.

New Mexico became the 24th state this year to decriminalize marijuana possession. Beyond that, the medical marijuana program has been expanded to include more qualifying conditions. But Lujan Grisham wants to take this a step further and create legislation to make marijuana fully legal in the state.

People caught with less than half an ounce of cannabis now face a $50 fine, instead of jail or prison time. Reduced penalties for being caught with drug paraphernalia (accessories) went into effect. These new law pertaining to cannabis went into effect on July 1. Selling cannabis is still illegal and marijuana is still illegal on a federal level.

The leader of Lujan Grisham’s pot legalization group is Albuquerque progressive Pat Davis, who flubbed and embarrassed himself on a national level regarding guns with his “F- the NRA” campaign in 2018. As it turned out, he didn’t know much about guns but he knew a lot about using the f-bomb.

So, Davis says he thinks people on this team will put their knowledge and experience to work to propose a program that will grow local jobs, ensure public safety and protect our robust medical program.

The working group is comprised of one Republican state senator who proposed last session to open up state-run pot shops. He is a Roswell farmer and was handpicked by Gov. Susana Martinez to oust beloved Democrat Sen. Tim Jennings. Sen. Cliff Pirtle, also known for his Daylight Savings legislation that fails to pass every session, was in his mid-20s when he was first elected.

Pirtle was one of the senators who proposed the marijuana legislation last session that is being used by the group as a starting point for crafting legislation.

What the remainder of the 20-plus-member group represents is a hand-selected group of people from Lujan Grisham’s cabinet, employees of Democrat Attorney General Hector Balderas’s office, and owners of marijuana businesses. The group also includes some Democratic legislators and union workers.

The major red flag that concerns me the most is that so many members of the working group are owners of marijuana companies or have vested interests in the industry.

PurLife Management Group is a medical cannabis company. Everest Apothecary is a medical cannabis company with dispensaries in Albuquerque.

Emily Kaltenback of the Drug Policy Alliance is a member of the group. The Drug Policy Alliance is a New York-based group working to end the war on drugs and replace it with legalized marijuana policies.

George Soros is on the board of directors of the Drug Policy Alliance as of 2018, as is Angela Pacheco, former district attorney of the First Judicial District of New Mexico.

Another member is Shanon Jaqramillo of Cannabis New Mexico Staffing. Having this group create marijuana regulations would be akin to cigarette companies writing laws regulating tobacco use, or alcohol manufacturers drafting regulations regarding liquor licenses or drinking and driving laws.

I am surprised that Lujan Grisham entrusted such an important task to this group of industry insiders. She has experience in lawmaking and working across the aisle. I would suggest rethinking this approach.

Any resulting proposed legislation from this group would not be ethical.

I applaud the governor for her honesty in disclosing the membership of this group, but any proposed legislation coming from this working group should be well scrutinized.

Jill McLaughlin is the editor of the Los Alamos Monitor. She can be reached at jill@lamonitor.com.