Association law

The Acequia Association and the state water office hope to see changes to the cannabis cleanup bill in the final hours of the legislative session

After nearly an hour of debate Monday night over water rights and cannabis, the New Mexico Senate removed a water rights vetting provision from what was billed as a bill. cannabis law cleanup. Even with compromise language about legal water access added to the Senate, a water advocacy group and a state water official said the bill could prove problematic if adopted in its present form.

The bill was not originally intended to change water requirements in the state’s Cannabis Regulation Act, which legalized cannabis last year. But, after debate in a Senate committee and subsequent debate in the Senate, lawmakers eliminated the requirement for cannabis producers to verify that they have legal access to water as a condition of obtaining permits. a state license.

The current version of the SB 100, sponsored by Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, includes language that allows the state’s Department of Regulation and Licensing and its Cannabis Control Division to revoke a license “if a Licensee uses water to which Licensee does not have a legal right.

On Tuesday morning, the New Mexico Acequia Association issued a statement of frustration.

“We are disappointed that the water protections enacted in 2021 have been emptied,” association president Paula Garcia said. “Verification of water use rights as part of the licensing process is essential to good water management.”

The Legislature added the requirement to prove legal access to water to the Cannabis Regulation Act during the 2021 special legislative session after a push from the Acequia Association. During debate on the bill, both in committee and in the Senate, Senator Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, argued that proving water rights during the water application process he cannabis business would create an unnecessary barrier to entry and added that it is already illegal to use water without the proper state approval for any type of agricultural use.

John Romero, who oversees the state’s water resources allocation program, which is part of the state’s office of the state engineer, previously said NM Policy Report that his office would struggle to find illegal water use among cannabis growers without requiring growers to verify access to water early in the process. Romero said NM Policy Report Tuesday that Pirtle’s comments regarding an existing water approval requirement were accurate.

“To do anything with water, you must have a valid water right, with a permit through our office,” Romero said. “He is right.”

But, Romero said, the original tongue gave his office some insight into the cannabis activity that could be happening in the state.

“We knew where they were in the state, the names of those businesses, and what their water source might be,” Romero said.

Several lawmakers have expressed concerns about how much water the collective recreational cannabis industry might use, but the answer is still unclear. Some existing medical cannabis growers already use municipal water, as do adult-use cannabis growers. Others, however, are likely to grow their crops in more rural areas, which would require access to water rights. Although it’s illegal, Romero said his office has already found that some existing growers are using household water wells or other illegal water supplies. He previously said NM Policy Report that only 10-15% of cannabis business applicants showed legal access to water. The others, he said, had to reconfigure water rights or completely change their water supply.

Any changes made in the House would need to be approved by the Senate, and there are only about 24 hours left in the legislative session. The bill committee’s only mission was the House bench, though New Mexico Acequia Association president Harold Trujillo said in a statement that he wanted to see a different mission.

“One would reasonably expect the House Agriculture, Acequias and Water Resources Committee to be a place where our voices could be heard,” Trujillo said.

The SB 100 was sent to the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday afternoon, but that committee was tied to a list of other bills.

Romero said that even if the water verification process isn’t added until noon Thursday, the Regulatory and Licensing Department may have the option to require verification through rules. The department will likely have to issue new rules if SB 100 is enacted.

“We’ll see how RLD approaches this with us, as far as communication goes,” Romero said. “That’s going to be the interesting aspect of it.”

The final hours of legislative sessions typically see rapid movement of bills, so the SB 100 could theoretically pass through the House Judiciary and the House Floor on Wednesday.