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ALBUQUERQUE — She didn’t lead with weed, but Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pitched what she knows will be a tough sell — legalization of recreational marijuana — during her speech to the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce Thursday afternoon.

The governor’s 30-minute address at the $50-per-plate luncheon, touched on the big topics facing the 2020 Legislature, which opens Tuesday. As attendees dined on a lunch of salad, sautéed chicken, wild rice and broccoli, the governor rolled through her sweeping agenda, saving legalization for last.

“Recreational cannabis is an economic game changer,” Lujan Grisham said, adding the industry would add 11,000 jobs to the state.

The governor announced she would put the issue on the call Wednesday, though she has acknowledged it could be “a heavy lift.”

The Greater Albuquerque Chamber has been skeptical of the argument in the past. According to a flyer touting the chamber’s accomplishments during the 2019 legislative session, stopping recreational cannabis legislation was one of its signature successes. The flyer also noted that while the group supports decriminalization and the medical marijuana industry, it opposed a recreational legalization bill that cleared the House in 2019 and a bill that did not make it out of the Senate.

The group said businesses need to maintain a drug-free workplace, and it cited the uncertainty of how to determine an employee’s use or impairment and the challenges of keeping people from driving under the influence as its reasons for opposing the legalization of recreational use.

The governor — who put the issue on her call Wednesday, has acknowledged the legislation could face a difficult road in the Senate this year, calling it “a heavy lift” in an interview last week. She told her luncheon audience she had some convincing to do, but she said it’s a choice the state should make sooner rather than later.

“This is not a debate like early childhood education, about if. …

This is about when,” she said. “I don’t want to see New Mexico to lose potential on research, innovation and problem-solving by not doing it when we should be.”

In addition to marijuana legalization, Lujan Grisham is putting education and gun bills alongside health, crime and environmental legislation on the 2020 legislative agenda. A spokesman for the governor said a legalization bill likely will be released Friday. It will be sponsored by Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque.

The governor’s task force on cannabis legalization — comprising lawmakers, Cabinet secretaries, members of the medical marijuana industry and others — made a series of recommendations in October for legislation regarding recreational legalization.

According to that report, an adult-use legal market would produce 13,000 new jobs, $850 million in annual sales, and give $100 million annually to state and local governments. It’s estimated the recreational market could grow six times the size of the state’s Medical Cannabis Program — which now serves about 75,000 patients — in five years.

Former Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, signed legislation in 2007 allowing the medicinal use of marijuana. In April, Lujan Grisham signed legislation decriminalizing recreational cannabis, and the law went into effect in July — reducing the penalty for possessing up to a half-ounce of cannabis to a $50 fine.

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