One of the biggest unanswered questions during this year’s legislative session is whether New Mexico will become the next state to legalize cannabis for recreational use. Legal cannabis is dependent on a handful of hold-outs in the state Senate, but one bill that would ease the state’s laws on cannabis, years in the making and sponsored by one of those hold-outs, cleared its first committee Tuesday. The Senate Public Affairs Committee passed Senate Bill 323 on a 5-1 vote Tuesday evening. Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, sponsored similar legislation to replace criminal charges with fines for possessing relatively small amounts of cannabis since 2015. With each attempt, the proposal has gained more support in the Legislature.
Possession of small amounts of cannabis is no longer a criminal offense under Albuquerque city code. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller signed city council legislation Thursday making cannabis possession a civil infraction. City councilors approved the measure earlier this month on a 5-4 vote. In a statement, Keller said the new ordinance will allow city police officers to focus on combating other crimes. “We’re facing real challenges in Albuquerque and this is a step in the right direction to allow our officers the flexibility to better prioritize their time tackling violent crime and property crime in our city,” Keller said.
The state Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved legislation to decrease penalties for marijuana possession, with supporters saying the bill would reduce burdens on the criminal justice system. Senate Bill 258 now moves to the House of Representatives. But even if it passes there, it’s almost certain to be vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez. “As a career prosecutor, Governor Martinez saw firsthand the damage drugs do to our families and communities,” Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan said in an email. “She’s opposed to legalizing drugs — and that includes decriminalizing weed.”
Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry announced on Wednesday that he vetoed a proposal, by the City Council, that would have lowered penalties for some marijuana possession. Berry wouldn’t elaborate on the specifics of his veto during a press conference at an Albuquerque Police Department substation on Albuquerque’s Westside but said he has been transparent on his stance on marijuana decriminalization. “I’m simply doing exactly what I said I would do,” Berry told reporters. The Albuquerque City Council approved a similar measure only for Berry to veto it in 2014. At the time, Berry said it had the potential of decriminalizing a drug that is illegal under federal law.
The city council in Albuquerque once again passed legislation to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana along with another piece of legislation to make marijuana offenses the lowest priority for Albuquerque police. Both measures are destined for failure, however, as Mayor Richard Berry vowed to veto them again. The legislation passed 5-4, with Democrats voting for the measure and Republicans voting against. The city council is officially non-partisan, but votes frequently fall along party lines. It would take six votes to override a mayoral veto.
Two Albuquerque city councilors are trying again to decriminalize marijuana in the state’s largest city. City councilors Rey Garduño and Isaac Benton filed the legislation on Friday, according to a press release from the Drug Policy Alliance’s New Mexico branch. DPA is a group that has supported decriminalizing marijuana possession. “Incarcerating people through this failed war on drugs for possessing a small amount of marijuana is creating criminals where none exist,” said Garduño, president of the Albuquerque city council. The proposal is actually two pieces of legislation.
A former sheriff who previously lobbied against medical marijuana in New Mexico now wants a piece of the weed pie. Darren White, whose law enforcement credentials include stints as cabinet secretary for the Department of Public Safety, Bernalillo County Sheriff and public safety director for the City of Albuquerque, is one of eight names serving as a board of director with Purlife, which filed an application with the state to open a medical marijuana nonprofit. White’s name came up in a database of medical marijuana applicants published this week by the Santa Fe Reporter. A listing on the Secretary of State’s website shows a May 2014 incorporation date for Purlife and lists its “character of affairs” as “conducting medical marijuana sales in New Mexico.” White is listed as one of eight directors of the company. The state Department of Health, which runs the Medical Cannabis Program, announced this week that it narrowed a pool of 86 applicants for new medical marijuana producer licenses to 17 finalists.