New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Monday signed a marijuana legalization bill into law, making her state the 17th in the country to legalize marijuana.
Under the law, adults 21 and older will be able to use and grow marijuana for recreational purposes. The state will launch a legal, regulated market, expected to start in 2022, with cannabis products taxed at levels beyond the state’s sales tax. Another measure will let people with past marijuana convictions expunge their records, and make people currently serving a punishment for a marijuana-related crime eligible for resentencing.
Lujan Grisham has worked hard for legalization over the past few years, calling a special session of the legislature in late March to push lawmakers to get a legal cannabis bill to her desk. After a quick but chaotic back-and-forth, the state’s House and Senate agreed to the legislation that Lujan Grisham has now signed into law.
New Mexico had already legalized marijuana for medical purposes, going back to 2007. The new law expands legalization to recreational use.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. But starting with former President Barack Obama’s administration, the federal government has, in general, allowed states to legalize cannabis with minimal federal interference.
With New Mexico’s law, 17 states and Washington, DC, have now legalized marijuana for recreational purposes, although DC doesn’t allow recreational sales. (South Dakota voters approved a ballot initiative to legalize cannabis in November, but that measure’s future is uncertain, as it’s caught up in legal battles.)
Supporters of legalization argue that it eliminates the harms of marijuana prohibition: the hundreds of thousands of arrests around the US, the racial disparities behind those arrests, and the billions of dollars that flow from the black market for illicit marijuana to drug cartels that then use the money for violent operations around the world. All of this, legalization advocates say, will outweigh any of the potential downsides — such as increased cannabis use — that might come with legalization.
Opponents, meanwhile, claim that legalization will create a huge marijuana industry that will market the drug irresponsibly. They point to America’s experiences with the alcohol and tobacco industries in particular, which have built their financial empires in large part on the backs of the heaviest consumers of their products. And they argue ending prohibition could result in far more people using pot, potentially leading to unforeseen negative health consequences.
At least in New Mexico, supporters of legalization have come out on top.
For more on the debate over marijuana legalization, read Vox’s explainer.