New Mexico becomes latest state to legalize marijuana, a rebuttal to America's 'failed war on drugs'

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New Mexico has joined 17 other states and the District of Colombia in legalization the recreational use of marijuana, with retail sales to begin by April 2022. David McNew/Getty Images
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  • Adults in New Mexico will soon be able to possess and grow marijuana.

  • The state legalized recreational use of cannabis this year, with retail sales to begin by April 2022.

  • "We're going to start righting past wrongs of this country's failed war on drugs," Gov. Michelle Lujan-Grisham said.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Beginning this summer, New Mexicans 21 and older will be able to both possess and grow marijuana. The state on Monday became the latest to legalize the recreational use of cannabis - with retail sales to begin by early 2022.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who in March convened a special session of the legislature to reform the state's drug laws, signed a legalization bill into law. She also put her signature on a companion bill that will give many with past marijuana convictions a clean record.

"We're going to start righting past wrongs of this country's failed war on drugs," Lujan-Grisham said in a statement. "And we're going to break new ground in an industry that may well transform New Mexico's economic future for the better."

One of the country's most impoverished states, a legal cannabis industry could spawn a $318 million market and more than 11,000 jobs, according to an economic analysis trumpeted by the governor.

Although New Mexico's political scene has long been dominated by Democrats, the state for years struggled to move forward with marijuana legalization, with reform efforts thwarted by more conservative members of the party. In 2020, however, several of those conservative Democrats lost primary races to more progressive challengers who went on to win in November, shifting the state Senate to the left.

While marijuana will become legal on June 29, New Mexico residents will, for a time, need to grow their own (under the new law, they are allowed up to six plants each). That's because the state will first need to develop both a regulatory infrastructure and sufficient commercial supply before allowing retail sales, which could begin as late as April 2022.

The upside for marijuana consumers is that, unlike in California and some other states that have legalized cannabis, local governments will not be able to issue blanket prohibitions on sales within their jurisdiction, the Albuquerque Journal reported. And anyone whose past offense would now be legal, or would have resulted in a lower sentence, will have their criminal record automatically expunged, per the Las Cruces Sun News.

Although New Mexico is known for its libertarian streak, the state's Republicans are displeased.

"Recreational marijuana is hardly a pressing issue," the New Mexico GOP said in a statement on Monday, arguing that cannabis legalization "will lead to even more crime, underage use, and impaired driving."

In fact, surveys have found that the rate of marijuana use by young people has either remained the same or declined in states that have legalized its recreational use. Studies have also failed to detect a clear connection between road safety and the legal status of cannabis. And researchers have found little to no impact on crime.

Eighteen states and the District of Colombia have now either voted or passed legislation to legalize recreational marijuana. Colorado, in 2012, was the first.

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