A panel appointed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in June has released a slew of recommendations to forge legislation to legalize recreational marijuana in New Mexico that would expunge cannabis possession convictions and to ensure that those who use medical marijuana will not be negatively affected.

The Marijuana Legalization Working Group’s 16-page report made public last week — and sent to Lujan Grisham — includes an executive summary of its proposals and an overview of fees and licensing structure to support the panel’s suggestions. The report also has a detailed analysis of the group’s deliberations and technical recommendations, all of which will be submitted to bill drafters.

The group says legalization is expected to create 13,000 new jobs, $850 million in annual sales and $100 million in annual revenue for state and local governments. They also recommended training law enforcement in how to deal with problems involved with marijuana use, including driving under the influence and other related actions that could be dangerous to the public at large.

Sierra County Sheriff Glen Hamilton, the New Mexico Sheriff’s Association’s legislative liaison, told the working group in September: “If you find a bill sheriffs, the ACLU, and defense attorneys can all live with, you should pass it.”

But according to the association’s chairman, Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace, even though law enforcement training for legalization is necessary, making marijuana legal creates other problems for local and state police, and sheriffs.

“Our position as an association is we’re waiting to see where it goes through the legislative process,” Mace told InsideSources. “We know it’s on the governor’s agenda and some other people really want to see this legalization of marijuana.

“But, we are all trained that marijuana is a gateway drug to other drugs and no matter what they pass on the state level it’s still going to illegal on the federal level,” he said. “In New Mexico we already have a huge problem with alcohol abuse and with the legalization all we are doing is throwing another match into the fire.

“We want to make sure that if it does get legalized that there is some money set aside for training law enforcement, because there are going to be impairment issues,” Mace said. “We need to train law enforcement to basically [understand] when somebody is operating a motor vehicle under the influence of marijuana, because we do know it does slow down your motor skills … and it will impair driving. “

Pat Davis, chairman of the advisory panel and a member of the Albuquerque City Council, said in his letter to the governor accompanying the report, that medical marijuana users will be protected under the group’s proposals — a chief concern of many who are watching the legalization process.

“As you will see, we are recommending an entirely new model for building a recreational program. We intend to protect patient access and affordability with a ‘patient first’ supply model,” Davis wrote. “It requires licensees to build and maintain strong medical programs before entering the recreational market.”

The report also recommends that medical marijuana — which is now taxed an average 7 percent — become tax-free. Millions of dollars would also be used to subsidize cannabis for low-income patients.

Davis also said the advisory group dealt with the issues concerning law enforcement.

“We listened to concerns from law enforcement that officers need new training and tools to identify and investigate drugged driving and that New Mexico should tread lightly in adopting policies from other states that had unintentionally created stronger illicit markets,” he wrote.

New Mexico director of the Criminal Justice Reform Strategy for the Drug Policy Alliance, Emily Kaltenbach, praised the recommendations saying they complemented DPA’s vision.

“Many of the working group’s recommendations reflect DPA’s priorities, including creating equity in the marketplace, reinvesting back into communities most harmed by prohibition, protecting the medical cannabis program, safeguarding children, and establishing strong consumer protections,” said Kaltenbach, who was also a group member.

“Having worked towards cannabis legalization in New Mexico for the better part of the last decade, we are grateful the Governor’s office involved us in this process by inviting us to be a part of the working group,” she said. “We are excited by the opportunity to help shape New Mexico’s policies as it looks to become the 12th state in the country to legalize and regulate cannabis.”

People on both sides of the issue have noted that any legislation introduced could reflect a bill that failed in the last legislative session. However, Davis said there are enough changes in the recommendations that the group believes they would be the basis for legislation that would pass muster.