To quote a slightly edited scene from the classic 1978 movie “Up In Smoke” starring comedians Cheech and Chong:
“BORDER GUARD: So, how long you’ve been in the New Mexico State Capital?
PEDRO: A week. I mean a day.
BORDER GUARD: Well, which is it? A week or a day?
Pedro: A weekday!”
Marijuana use is legal for medical purposes in 32 states including New Mexico.
Nearly 25% of the United States population lives in a state or jurisdiction that permits the recreational use of marijuana.
The Ten states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana including recreational cannabis and they are:
District of Colombia
NM HOUSE EFFORTS FOR LEGALIZATION OF RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA ON TRACK FOR ENACTMENT BY SENATE
On March 7, 2019 the state House passed House Bill 356 (HB 356) with a two-vote majority of 36 to 34.
The New Mexico House of Representatives moved the state closer than ever toward legalizing recreational marijuana for adults.
HB 356 is legislation that was the result of bipartisan efforts and talks involving House Democrats and Senate Republicans.
HB 356 is the first recreational marijuana proposal ever passed by one of New Mexico’s legislative chambers.
Every Republican Representative in the House voted against HB 356 joining 10 Democrats in opposition to it.
All previous efforts of marijuana legalization have failed in the Senate because of skepticism from some moderate Democrats in the Senate.
However, three Republican Senators have been working with House Democrats on the legalization proposal, providing a narrow path to approval for a bipartisan bill through both the House and Senate.
The three Republican State Senators working on the bipartisan legislation for the legalization of recreational marijuana are State Senator Cliff Pirtle of Roswell, Senator Mark Moors of Albuquerque and Senator Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho.
HB 356 bill includes a variety of ideas originally contained in the Senate version.
HB 356 also includes provisions of state run and regulated stores.
The compromise bill requires people to keep receipts showing they purchased their marijuana legally, and they could carry only 1 ounce of cannabis and couldn’t grow it on their own.
The original house bill would allow people to grow cannabis on their own.
The HB 356 compromise bill does not allow residents to grow marijuana at home nor carry more than one ounce on them at a time.
The compromise bill also makes it clear that employers could still maintain drug-free workplace policies.
House Bill 356 is a broader marijuana legalization proposal and dedicates some of the tax revenue from cannabis sales to research into cannabis impairment, purchasing roadside testing equipment for law enforcement and to train police officers as drug recognition experts when drivers are stopped.
The House compromise bill has now advanced through all the Senate committees it was assigned to for hearings.
The Senate Finance Committee advance HB 356 with the a “Do Pass” recommendation and it now goes before the full Senate for a vote and will only need a majority vote to pass.
The bill is set to hit the Senate floor sometime this week.
NM SENATE EFFORTS FOR STATE RUN STORES
Senate Bill 577 is the New Mexico Senate’s version of legislation that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana an it includes state run stores.
All 3 Republican Senator sponsors Cliff Pirtle, Mark Moors and Craig Brandt argue that legalization is inevitable and that state-run stores would help limit exposure to children and allow New Mexico regulators to respond to problems.
State run stores appeal to many because it would give the state strong regulatory controls and make it easier to keep cannabis products away from children.
Under the Senate legislation, New Mexico itself would get into the cannabis business by operating a network of retail stores to sell marijuana to adults 21 and older.
A state “Cannabis Control Commission” would operate cannabis shops by summer 2020.
The marijuana would be sold on consignment, meaning the state would not own the cannabis.
It would be grown by private businesses under a complex regulatory system and sold only at state-run stores, with limited exceptions.
It would give the state tremendous control over where and how the products are sold and who can get their product to customers.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, the system proposed in New Mexico for state run recreational cannabis stores would be the first of its kind for recreational marijuana in the United States.
According to Republican State Senator Cliff Pirtle state-run stores could be used to promote business development among local growers and manufacturers.
Senator Pirtle argues state run stores would ensure that cannabis shops aren’t clustered together in a “green mile” by saying:
“You have the ability to control product placement, to prevent the ‘green mile’ as it’s been termed, and it allows your smaller growers and manufacturers to get their product statewide without having to invest a lot in the infrastructure. … It’s really a great way for the smaller guys to get their product on the market.”
Supporters say driving under the influence of marijuana is already illegal and that the bill would set the state on a path to better understand and measure impaired driving.
During a March 9, 2019 hearing in the Senate Public Affairs Committee significant skepticism was expressed by people who testified.
Not at all surprising, the conservative Republican leaning Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce questioned whether it’s appropriate to create a new business sector that’s operated essentially within the government.
No doubt the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce wants to make sure there is no government involvement in any type of business that competes with or adds to overhead to the private sector with the chamber always resisting government regulation on any level, even if it is to protect public health, safety and welfare.
Medical marijuana producers also testified that they fear the more profit motivated recreational industry would damage the medical marijuana industry.
Allen Sanchez, the executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops also felt law makers need to slow down with enactment.
The Senate Public Affairs Committee voted on a 5-2 vote to send the legislation to the Senate Finance Committee for another hearing before it is sent to the full Senate for approval.
The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing and voted to recommend a “DO Pass.”
Democrats hold a 26-16 majority in the Senate, but enough Senate Democrats have opposed legalization of recreational marijuana in previous sessions blocking passage.
There is yet another Senate Bill sponsored by Democrat State Senator Joseph Cervantes, Las Cruces, that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana that has passed the Senate and is now under consideration in the House.
Any enacted marijuana legalization bill could also be vetoed by Democrat Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Governor Lujan Grisham spokesman Nora Sackett had this to say about the legislation:
“The governor is encouraged by the possibility of bipartisan and bicameral legislation addressing recreational cannabis. … She has said all along she will sign a bill with the proper safeguards for public safety and workplace regulation, among other things. If the Legislature can check those boxes, bring it on.”
HOUSE BILL 356 IN A NUTSHELL
House Bill 356 can be summarized in a nutshell as follows:
A state commission would operate consignment stores that sell recreational cannabis
Local cities and counties could opt out
Adults 21 and older could possess up to 1 ounce
People could not grow their own recreational marijuana
Employers could still have drug-free workplaces
Consuming cannabis in public would be prohibited
Taxes on sales would amount to roughly 17% or more resulting in a significant revenue flow to the state
Some revenue would go to research into how to detect impairment
Child resistant-packaging would be mandated
On-site consumption would be permitted only in lounges by licensed cannabis producers.
COLORADO IMPACT REPORT
New Mexico has one of the highest rates of DWI in the country and DWI accident related deaths and recreational use of marijuana could aggravate that problem.
Opponents of legalizing recreational use of marijuana raise legitimate questions about worsening New Mexico’s problem with impaired drivers, increase use by underage children and many others and increase in drug related crime.
However, after over 5 years, what has happened in Colorado since it legalized the recreational use of marijuana in 2013 appears to suggest such fears may be unfounded.
On October 26, 2018 the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice released a baseline report on the impacts of marijuana legalization over the previous 5 years.
The data provided for the first-time insight into how legalization has impacted several highly charged subjects, including usage among young people, crime, health and driving impairment.
On October 16, 2018 the Denver Post published an article summarizing the report as follows:
Colorado has not experienced an increase in marijuana use among young people, although it was the single most common reason for school expulsions in the 2016-17 school year, the first year it was broken out as its own category.
Marijuana also has not impacted graduation rates or dropout rates in Colorado.
Graduation rates have increased while dropout rates have decreased since 2012.
The number of drivers in fatal crashes who tested above the legal limit of THC, marijuana’s active ingredient, decreased to 35 in 2017, down from 52 in 2016.
The number of citations for marijuana-only impairment stayed steady between 2014 to 2017 at around 7 percent of all DUI arrests.
That’s roughly 350 citations out of nearly 5,000 DUI arrests each year, the report said.
Total marijuana arrests dropped by half during a five-year period, decreasing to 6,153 in 2017 from 12,709 in 2012.
Marijuana possession arrests — the majority of all marijuana-related arrests — were cut by more than half during the same period, dropping to 5,154 from 11,361.
Pot grown illegally on public lands — an indicator for the size of the black market — also is on the rise with 80,926 plants seized in 2017, a 73 percent increase in five years.
Organized crime cases almost tripled in five years, increasing to 119 in 2017 from 31 in 2012.
Rates of hospitalization with possible marijuana exposures increased steadily from 2000 through 2015.
The number of adults who use marijuana increased between 2014 and 2017, with men getting high more often than women and young adults ages 18 to 25 the most frequent users.”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Opponents of legalizing recreational use of marijuana raise legitimate questions about worsening New Mexico’s problems with impaired drivers, crime, heath and the conflict with federal law.
New Mexico has one of the highest rates of DWI in the country.
DWI accident related deaths in New Mexico could increase with recreational use of marijuana and could aggravate the problem but it has not done so in Colorado for the past 5 years.
One legitimate concern is how to address impaired driving and how law enforcement can detect whether someone is driving under the influence marijuana.
With DWI, police can use a breath test at the scene and time of arrest, but there is no such device for marijuana and blood tests would likely have to be done.
There is no doubt that Republican support in the Senate is absolutely critical because previous attempts to legalize recreational marijuana have failed in the Senate where moderate Democrats have joined Republicans to kill the legislation.
The War on Drugs in this country has been going on now for almost 60 years, and it has been a miserable failure.
State Representative Antonio “Moe” Maestas, an Albuquerque Democrat and co-sponsor of the legislation was correct when he told his colleagues in the House:
“Prohibition does not work. … Let’s put the cartels out of business.”
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has said she is open to legalizing recreational marijuana, but only if there are safeguards to prevent use by children, protect the medical marijuana program, and address workplace intoxication and driving under the influence.
The compromise HB 356 appears to address all of the Governor’s concerns.
The biggest problem that would confront the state sponsored stores where recreational marijuana is sold is that the cultivation and sale marijuana is still illegal under the federal law.
Under federal law, marijuana is a “Class 1” narcotic and sale and distribution of it is still a felony.
So far, the United States Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have not taken any action against any one of the 10 states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana
Notwithstanding, state sponsored stores may just well expose New Mexico to unnecessary federal criminal or civil action to stop and close down the stores, but the risk should be considered low given the Department of Justice reluctance to take on the 10 states that already have made the recreational use of marijuana legal.
It is more likely than not that over the next few years, congress will enacted legislation taking marijuana off the classification of being a scheduled 1 narcotic, legalize it and regulate and tax sales much like tobacco.
It is not at all out of the realm of possibility to suggest that one day we will find a New Mexico State run recreational pot store in Taos, New Mexico managed by former Republican/Independent Governor Gary Johnson selling “Governor’s Choice” or “New Mexico Gold” marijuana products.
There are only 5 days left in the 2019 New Mexico Legislature session, but 5 days can an eternity in politics and anything can still happen but the legislation now has a big chance of passing.
The compromise HB 356 that passed the Senate Finance Committee now goes before the full New Mexico Senate for a vote and will only need a majority vote to pass and with the Governor’s signature for it to become law.
To quote Cheech Maron in “Up In Smoke” if the recreational use of marijuana becomes law in New Mexico: “That’s Some Heavy Shit, Man”.