October 9, 2020

Which legislative races could decide the fate of marijuana legalization

It is unlikely that recreational-use cannabis legalization will be the sole deciding factor for New Mexico voters when they fill out their ballots this year. But Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is a proponent of legalization and the state Legislature is expected to take up the issue next January. And according to a poll commissioned by the Albuquerque Journal this summer, a large majority of New Mexicans are in favor of legalization.

At least two major medical cannabis producers contributed almost $35,000 collectively to Democratic candidates or Democratic political committees. 

With the entire Legislature up for election this year, it’s hard to pinpoint whether there will be enough votes to pass any legalization attempts. But, there are a handful of state Senate and House races that could be deciding factors.

During the past two years, the Democratic majority state House has been able to garner enough votes to pass legalization efforts, but those efforts have stalled in the Senate, which also has a Democratic majority but is more conservative. 

If Democrats can flip some seats that have come down to a few percentage points in recent elections, they may have a chance at getting a legalization bill to the governor’s desk.

Senate District 23

Incumbent Republican Sen. Sander Rue has been known to buck party lines on some votes, but the state Senate in general is not known for hyper-partisan votes. Rue is running for what would be his third term in the Senate and told the Albuquerque Journal that he is not in favor of legalization. 

His Democratic opponent, Harold Pope told NM Political Report that he supports legalization, specifically in how it relates to the criminal justice system. 

“You really see a lot of communities of color really impacted a lot by what’s happened with our laws,” Pope said. 

A majority of voters in Senate District 23 voted for the Democratic candidate in the past two presidential elections, but Rue also received the majority of votes in those elections. In 2016, Rue eked out a win over his Democratic opponent by about 3 points. 

Senate District 10

Republican Sen. Candace Gould first took office when she won the 2016 general election. She has voted against and publicly said she is against cannabis legalization. She told the Albuquerque Journal that her concern is for New Mexicans who are already struggling with substance abuse and addiction. 

Her opponent, Katy Duhigg has said she is in favor of legalizing cannabis as long as it is well-regulated and the process of crafting laws and regulation is inclusive.

Like Senate District 23, this district favored the Democratic presidential candidate in the past two elections. 

In 2016 Gould narrowly won against her Democratic opponent by just one point. 

Senate District 20

Republican Sen. William Payne decided not to run for reelection after more than two decades in the Senate. 

Democratic candidate Dr. Martin Hickey told the Albuquerque Journal that he is in favor of legalizing recreational-use cannabis. Republican candidate and retired U.S. Air Force officer John Morton told the Journal he helped with federal drug operations and is adamantly against legalizing cannabis. 

Both Democratic presidential candidates won District 20 in both 2016 and 2012. Payne ran unopposed in 2016 and easily won the election in 2012. 

Senate District 35

Long-time Democratic senator and notorious budget hawk John Arthur Smith lost his primary race this year to Democratic candidate Neomi Martinez-Parra. A fairly conservative district, voters there have largely favored the Republican candidates in the last two presidential elections and have mostly favored Republicans in recent U.S. Senate and gubernatorial elections. It is the most-Republican-leaning district held by a Democrat in the Senate. 

Martinez-Parra favors legalization as long as there is adequate regulation. Her opponent, Crystal Diamond told the Journal she is not in favor of legalization, but is in favor of expanding the state’s existing medical cannabis program. 

House District 12

One vote cannabis legalization proponents will likely pick up, is from House District 12. Democrat Patricio Ruiloba recently stepped down from his position as representative after he was disqualified from the ballot. Ruiloba held that spot since 2015 and voted against legalization in 2019. 

Now, Ruiloba’s replacement, Democratic Rep. Art De la Cruz will face off against independent candidate Brittney Bareras. Both De la Cruz and Barreras have said they are in favor of legalization. 

House District 22

In House District 22, voters in the past two presidential elections have favored the Republican candidate. In 2016, former Republican Rep. James Smith easily won the seat, but in 2018 Republican Rep. Gregg Schmedes won the seat against his Democratic opponent Jessica Velasquez by less than one point. Schmedes opted not to run for reelection in order to run for a spot in the state Senate. 

Now Velasquez will face off against Republican Stefani Lord. Velasquez told the Journal that she is in favor of legalization, but Lord did not explicitly say where she stands on the issue, except that it’s a controversial topic in her district.