February 20, 2015

Reduced marijuana possession penalties clears Senate committee

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A bill that would decrease certain penalties related to possession of a small amount of marijuana passed in a Senate committee on Friday.

Marijuana bud

During a very brief hearing, the Senate Public Affairs Committee voted along party lines to pass SB 383, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces.

The dissenting votes came from two of the three Republican committee members. A third Republican member was not present.

Most of the debate from the committee came from the two Republican members and centered on whether penalties should be decreased for certain amounts of marijuana.

Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, expressed concern that marijuana strains are more potent than in the past.

Under the proposed legislation, possession of an ounce or less of marijuana would be considered a civil penalty instead of a criminal offense. Kernan said she was concerned that an ounce of marijuana is stronger that it was years prior.

“An ounce twenty years ago is one thing, and ounce today something else,” Kernan told the committee.

The other hesitant member was Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho. He told the committee he was concerned with not only the amount that is listed in the bill, but that marijuana is still illegal on the federal level.

“That seems like a pretty big quantity,” Brandt said. “I can’t support this.”

In 2013, Emily Kane, a Democrat, introduced similar legislation. Her bill narrowly passed the House and did not receive a Senate committee hearing before the session ended.

The bill will move to the Senate Judiciary committee next.

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