Pubdate: Thu, 19 Apr 2018
Source: Lexington Herald-Leader (KY)
Copyright: 2018 Lexington Herald-Leader
Author: Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Apodaca on 
Thursday called for the expansion of New Mexico's medical marijuana 
program and for legalization of recreational use, saying the 
poverty-stricken state is missing out on millions of dollars in tax 
revenues and jobs that could be spurred by the industry.

Apodaca released his plan solidifying his position as a supporter of
legalization as the race for governor heats up.

Apodaca pointed to New Mexico's history as the first state to allow
for research and experimentation with marijuana as a therapeutic drug.
It was his father, then-Gov. Jerry Apodaca, who signed that
legislation in 1978.

The research program stalled and it wasn't until 2008 that New Mexico
rolled out its medical cannabis program.

"Why are we shooting for being the last to legalize cannabis for adult
use?" Apodaca said.

The push for legalization comes as New Mexico's medical marijuana
program has grown exponentially in just the last two years. Producers
licensed under the program reported record sales of more than $86
million in 2017 and the number of patients enrolled now tops 50,000.

"We know the medical benefits of it. And we also know the
opportunities of legalization for adult use," Apodaca said, suggesting
expansion of the long-standing medical marijuana program along with
legalization could result in an estimated $200 million of additional
tax revenues for the state.

The state's largest producer, Ultra Health, announced that it has
acquired farmland in southern New Mexico and has plans for what the
industry says could be the largest cultivation facility in North America.

The property spans nearly one-third of a square mile (81 hectares) in
Otero County. It will include 20 acres (8 hectares) of indoor
cultivation, 80 acres (32 hectares) of outdoor cannabis fields and
another 100 acres (40 hectares) of outdoor hemp fields.

Ultra Health president and CEO Duke Rodriguez said the company is
preparing for a future in which New Mexico stands to benefit from
expanded medical use and possibly recreational use.

Apodaca's plan calls for lifting the current limits on the number of
plants producers can grow and reducing costly licensing fees.

Other Democratic candidates have been more cautious.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she would work with state
lawmakers to ensure there are adequate health, safety and enforcement
measures in place. She called for a "thorough analysis" of
recreational pot programs in other states as part of that effort.

Lujan Grisham was in charge of the state Health Department when the
medical marijuana program began. Aside from the legalization debate,
she said supporting producers to create the latest medicines and
methods to help patients would help create jobs and expand the industry.

State Sen. Joseph Cervantes, another Democratic candidate, has
sponsored unsuccessful legislation to decriminalize possession of
small quantities of pot but has said the state is lacking
infrastructure and isn't ready yet to legalize.

Cervantes recently lauded efforts at the local level by the state's
largest city -- Albuquerque -- to decriminalize possession of small
amounts. He said he would do the same as governor and that it would
mark a first step.

Republican congressman and gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce
expressed reservations about legalization at a forum earlier this
month. He said it might create a stumbling block for people trying to
climb out of poverty and addiction to other drugs.

"I just don't see how it fits that we're going to deal with addiction
and yet we're going to tell people, 'This one is OK.' I've watched it
for a lifetime. I just am very nervous with recreational marijuana,"
he said.

Associated Press writer Morgan Lee contributed to this report.
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