November 17, 2016

With new leadership Dems aiming for marijuana legalization

With Democrats back in full control of the New Mexico legislature, marijuana policy reform will likely continue gaining traction in 2017.

Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, has sponsored his version of a legalization bill since 2015, only to see it die before a committee ever hears it. McCamley has vowed to continue introducing the legislation as to keep the discussion going, even with a governor who opposes marijuana legalization.

“It’s not an academic exercise anymore,” McCamley said of legalization bills in the upcoming 2017 session.

Gov. Susana Martinez, a former prosecutor, has long been a critic of marijuana legalization and said she would veto any measures to do so.

Current state House of Representatives leaders have successfully blocked McCamley’s perennial bill from seeing any committee discussions. In 2015, Republican House leadership assigned McCamley’s Cannabis Revenue & Freedom Act to five committees—a death knell for any type of legislation.

The odds that Martinez will change her stance on marijuana this year are long, but McCamley said he remains determined to keep the conversation going. He pointed to the number of states across the U.S. that voted to legalize recreational marijuana as a sign of what’s to come.

State Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces

State Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces

“It’s going to happen sooner than later,” McCamley said of legalization in New Mexico.

Another expected legalization measure  comes from Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque. Ortiz y Pino has sponsored marijuana legislation in one form or another for several years.

Earlier this year, his proposal to let voters decide on a constitutional amendment that would legalize marijuana made it through two committees and onto to the Senate floor, where it failed on a 17-24 vote. A handful of the ‘no’ votes came from Democrats.

Ortiz y Pino said he expects to see at least a couple bills aimed at legalization in addition to his constitutional amendment measure.

“The short answer is yes, I fully intend to reintroduce the constitutional amendment,” Ortiz y Pino said in a voice message to NM Political Report. “I think there will probably be bills, statutes, that try to do the same thing all with slightly different angles on it.”

Emily Kaltenbach, a director with the Drug Policy Alliance, said the 2017 legislative session may show some progress in regards to legalization, or at least lesser penalties for marijuana.

“This year looks promising,” Kaltenbach said. Gov. Martinez will almost certainly veto any statute changes to drug policy, but Kaltenbach said she would like to see some attempt at decreasing marijuana possession penalties in the interim while legalization is being debated.

Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, voted against Ortiz y Pino’s constitutional amendment in 2016, but also sponsored a measure to lessen penalties in 2015. Cervantes made a point to differentiate between “legalization and decriminalization” on the Senate floor.

Incoming Democratic Senator Bill Tallman said he might be swayed to vote in favor of legalization.

“I probably would lean that direction,” Tallman said, adding that it’s still “a little early” as he hasn’t been sworn into office yet.

Tallman said he still has concerns about people driving while impaired and the availability of marijuana to minors.

Newly elected Democratic Senator and current Santa Fe County Commissioner Liz Stefanics told the Albuquerque Journal she supports legalization, but wants to have more discussions surrounding public safety and conflicting federal laws.

Stefanics was out of the state at press time, but a spokeswoman for her told NM Political Report that “it’s safe to say she’ll probably have some nuances.”

Even with new support in the Senate, Ortiz y Pino said it’s still unclear how votes will shake out in 2017.

“I’m not sure which version will pass, but we’re going to try any and all,” Ortiz y Pino said.