February 12, 2015

Senate committee passes marijuana legalization

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The Senate Rules Committee passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize the use of recreational marijuana in New Mexico.

The committee voted 5-4 to pass SJR 2 out of the Senate Rules Committee on Thursday, the first time such legislation has passed the committee.

Marijuana budThe joint resolution passed without fanfare in front of a largely empty room following a number of confirmations in the committee.

Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, sponsored the legislation and spoke to New Mexico Political Report following the short hearing.

“The wording is very simple, it says possession and personal use of marijuana shall be lawful for persons of 21 years of age or older,” Ortiz y Pino explained, “and then the legislature has to come up with the laws to govern how it’s produced, processed, transported, sold, taxed and how much would be acceptable quantities.”

If the legislation passes the Senate, which is anything but certain, it would likely face a tough road in the House where Republicans hold a majority. If it were to pass both chambers, the legislation would go straight to voters. The governor cannot veto a proposed constitutional amendment.

Ortiz y Pino said he thought it was important for voters to have a say in the legalization.

“If we do it on our own, without giving it to the voters to decide, then there’s always that question of whether we really have support,” he said. He noted that it would be going against the federal government, but that other states that have done so have not had major problems with the federal government.

At least one Republican who voted against the legislation said he believed it would eventually be legal.

“I do think it’s coming,” Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, said during debate on the bill. “But we have to do it prudently.”

Moores told the committee that he believed that marijuana would be legal in five to ten years. However, he said he didn’t believe that a constitutional amendment was the right way to make marijuana legal.

“I don’t think smoking a bowl is a constitutional right,” he said.

Moores said he supported a study to look into the legalization of marijuana, though that legislation did not pass in 2013. He mentioned support for a study similar to one done in Vermont, another state that is looking into legalizing the use of recreation marijuana.

This is the second year that Ortiz y Pino has introduced a joint resolution asking for the legalization of marijuana. It did not pass any committees last year.

It is good for supporters of the joint resolution that it would not have to go to the governor; Gov. Susana Martinez has said she opposes the legalization of marijuana and has expressed opposition to the state’s medical marijuana law.

The legislation heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee next.

Correction:

This piece previously said “Brian Moores” instead of “Mark Moores.” We regret the error.

 

[box type=”tick”]Read more about Marijuana and Drug Policy Change in New Mexico  in our other reports on that topic here.[/box]

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