February 14, 2016

No legalized pot: Senate kills effort

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Marijuana

The Senate rejected legislation Sunday evening that would have allowed voters to decide whether to legalize and tax the sale of marijuana in New Mexico.

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Andy Lyman

Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque

After a 45 minute debate, the Senate voted 17-24 to against  the proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque.

Ortiz y Pino, who has pushed similar legislation in previous years, said he proposed the legislation as a constitutional amendment to send a message to the federal government. He called the federal regulation on marijuana a “wrongheaded approach.”

“I only hope this is one time New Mexico will not be the 49th state to act,” Ortiz y Pino said.

While some Democratic members voted against the proposal, only Republican members spoke out in opposition.

Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, asked Ortiz y Pino about the possibility of children getting a “contact high” from being around adults smoking marijuana.

Ortiz y Pino suggested that may already be happening, and it would mostly likely not increase with legalization.

Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, argued that legalizing marijuana would cause more harm than good. He said that marijuana is much more potent now than in the past, therefore more dangerous.

“It’s so potent, it becomes addictive,” Sharer said of marijuana strains today.

Early on in the debate, a floor amendment was added to change the legal age to consume marijuana. Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, said he proposed to change the legal age to 25 instead of 21 years of age. He argued that a human brain is not fully developed at 21.

After some drawn out parliamentary procedure, the amendment was adopted.

Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, argued that U.S. citizens should have a right to make their own choices when it comes to marijuana.

“If we believe that America should be the land of the free, the only way to do it is to trust the people,” McSorley said.

After the final vote, Senate Majority Floor Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, took a chance to explain his vote and take an apparent jab at former Department of Public Safety Secretary and former staunch marijuana opponent Darren White.

“I just wanted to say my vote was for my good friends Darren White and Duke Rodriguez,” Sanchez said.

White is now part of a medical marijuana non-profit.

A poll by Research and Polling, the organization used by the Albuquerque Journal, found a majority of New Mexicans support legalizing and taxing marijuana.

It was an uphill battle for the proposed constitutional amendment to even make it to the floor. The legislation passed the Senate Rules Committee for the second year in a row last week. Then, just two days later in a late-night hearing, the legislation passed the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The legislation had never passed two committees before. When the legislation passed the Senate Rules Committee in 2015, it was the first time the effort ever cleared even one committee.

New Mexico is one of 23 states, and the District of Columbia, which have at least some legalized marijuana already; New Mexico legalized medical marijuana in 2007.

Four states have legalized recreational marijuana: Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. All four states passed their laws by referendum. New Mexico does not have voter referendums for laws, only for constitutional amendments.

Six Democrats and all of the Senate Republicans voted against the measure on Sunday. This is the farthest any attempt to legalize marijuana has made it through the Legislature.

If the legislation had passed, it would have then went to the House, where it would have likely failed to make it to the floor.