January 18, 2015

Marijuana legislation coming despite long odds


MarijuanaThere are a several topics that seem to come up repeatedly during New Mexico’s legislative session. For the past few years, one of those topics is legislation related to marijuana.

In 2007, then-governor Bill Richardson signed the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act which made medical marijuana legal in New Mexico. In 2012, voters in Washington and Colorado voted to legalize recreational marijuana. Since then, some New Mexico lawmakers have been watching New Mexico’s neighbor to the north to see what lessons, if any, can be learned.

Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, is set to file legislation he said would allow New Mexico to tax and regulate the sale of marijuana. He told New Mexico Political Report in a phone interview that he wants the discussion this session to be based on facts and statistics instead of, what he calls, stereotypes.

“It’s important that when we discuss this issue, we do so in a manner that is based on what the facts are, what the statistics tell us, rather than this ‘Reefer Madness’ orCheech and Chong mindset about marijuana,” he said.

McCamley said legalization will also take money away from violent drug cartels in other countries and possibly create a better way of life for people living there.

“When you look at it we’re creating those problems,” McCamley said. “When we give money to the drug cartels because of illegal marijuana, they are giving it to the gangs in Central and South America.”

McCamley does realize the uphill battle he will face with his bill. Gov. Susana Martinez has stated that she does not support any effort to legalize marijuana. New Mexico’s Republican state lawmakers have also generally disapproved of previous legalization attempts. Martinez’s stance and the Republican majority in the House are two major obstacles for this type of legislation. So, why try to pass this with so many obstacles?

“Why not? Legislation sometimes takes a while to get through,” McCamley said. “I’m hoping that by the time we have a governor who’s willing to look at this issue thoughtfully, and consider it seriously, then maybe we’ll have crafted a piece of legislation that can make it through the House and Senate and we can all do this together.”

In the Senate, another lawmaker has already filed a resolution that would let voters decide whether marijuana should be taxed and regulated by the state. Sen. Gerald Ortiz Y Pino, D-Albuquerque is sponsoring Senate Joint Resolution 2, which would add an amendment to the state constitution that would allow legal use and possession of marijuana. If the resolution is approved by both the House and Senate, the proposed amendment would be on the ballot during the next general election. In 2014, Ortiz Y Pino sponsored a similar bill and it never made it out of the committee process.

This type of legislation may have a hard time getting through the committee process again this year.

Rep. William “Bill” Rehm, R-Albuquerque, said he doesn’t know what the Republican caucus is planning, but he said he is against legalizing marijuana. He pointed to the fact that cannabis is still listed as a Schedule I drug by the federal government and by definition doesn’t have medical uses. He acknowledged that there have been studies that show otherwise, but that he wants to see more evidence.

“I want to see Johns Hopkins University, I want to see one of the big medical centers with a true study,” he told New Mexico Political Report.

Rehm said parts of New Mexico are known for the prolific use of substances like heroin and he thinks making marijuana legal for recreational use will make matters worse.

“We want to say, ‘You know? Let’s get another illicit drug, but we’ll make this one legal,’” Rehm said. “I have a real problem with what’s going on.”

New Mexico Political Report previously reported on one of Rehm’s bill that would qualify certain drugs in a DWI charge. McCamley said his marijuana bill should be filed by the beginning of the legislative session.