Two state senators on opposite sides of the political aisle introduced competing bills Monday to legalize recreational marijuana in New Mexico. A third proposal, also filed Monday, is expected to be formally introduced Tuesday in the House of Representatives, and other bills could be forthcoming. The push to legalize cannabis for recreational adult use comes after previous efforts failed under a more conservative group of New Mexico lawmakers. It also comes as the state government seeks to diversify its revenue sources to reduce its heavy reliance on oil and gas. But the two senators who introduced the first cannabis legalization bills of this year’s 60-day legislative session, and the state director of the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance, said generating revenue shouldn’t be the driving force.
Proponents of legalizing marijuana have long pointed to a prospective windfall they say state and local governments could enjoy by taxing products that now circulate on the black market. But the sponsors of a bill to legalize marijuana in New Mexico have an unlikely goal. They don’t want to tax it too much. And there’s a reason why. “Our goal was to stay under 20 percent,” said Rep. Javier Martinez, a Democrat from Albuquerque who is co-sponsoring House Bill 356, known as the Cannabis Regulation Act.
New Mexico lawmakers injected a dose of political pressure Monday into an unwavering but so far unsuccessful effort to add opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis in New Mexico. State Sen. Jeff Steinborn and Rep. Joanne Ferrary, both Democrats from Las Cruces, held a news conference at the Roundhouse to bring attention to companion memorials they are sponsoring, calling on Department of Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher to allow people with opioid dependence to obtain medical marijuana to help them break the chains of their addiction. “It is past time that this secretary do this,” Steinborn said. “People are dying every day in the state of New Mexico from opioid abuse, and medical marijuana has proven to be a safer treatment for any underlying conditions and certainly, hopefully, to step people down from opioid addiction into something safer that won’t kill them.” Twice, the state Medical Cannabis Program’s advisory board has recommended medical marijuana be allowed as a treatment for opioid addiction.
Two state legislators who will try to convince fellow lawmakers and the governor to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana for adults in New Mexico said Wednesday that they will stress the economic benefits of their idea. Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, described marijuana legalization as the best solution for the state’s ongoing budget problems.
Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, said New Mexicans are spending millions of dollars on illegal marijuana, money that “goes to Mexican drug cartels.” Legalizing marijuana would keep that money — as well as what New Mexicans spend on legal cannabis in Colorado — in this state, McCamley said. Plus, he said, marijuana would generate new tax revenue. The pro-marijuana forces have more going for them than in previous years.
—HSD Secretary talks behavioral health shakeup. Here at NM Political Report, we’ve been following the behavioral health shakeup that came after the state Human Services Department decided to cut off Medicaid funding for 15 providers, citing “credible allegations of fraud.”
Since then, several went out of business and the Attorney General exonerated 13 of the groups. While he wasn’t at the helm at the time, legislators on the Legislative Finance Committee still wanted an update on the process from the department’s secretary. HSD Secretary Brent Earnest explained that there was “still some overbilling” with those providers who were cleared and there was an ongoing administrative process to deal with the overbilling. He was less willing to say what that process was, beyond saying it would be “months more than years” before the situations were resolved and that currently OptumHealth is holding the funds.
Two competing proposals for reforming New Mexico’s bail process moved forward on Monday, setting up an inevitable clash as they move towards the floors of the House and Senate. The Senate version has two components: It would allow judges to deny release of those awaiting trial if they are deemed a danger to the public and it would allow judges to not impose bond if the only thing keeping someone accused of a non-violent crime in jail is a lack of ability to pay bond. The House version only has the first part, on allowing judges to keep those deemed dangerous in jail until trial. In the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, presented his version along with New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Charles Daniels. Wirth said the legislation was “narrowed dramatically” since he started the vetting process through interim committees last year.
The rate of young people overdosing in New Mexico is among the top in the nation and doubled in a decade according to a recent report. The report by Trust for America’s Health, reported on by Governing, found that 12.5 out of every 100,000 New Mexicans from ages 12 to 25 overdosed in 2011 to 2013. That was an increase from 6.1 out of every 100,000 from 1999 to 2003. New Mexico is one of just three states with a rate of 12 overdoses among 100,000 young people; the other two are Utah (12.1 per 100,000) and West Virginia (12.6 per 100,000). Another recent study had found that opioid overdose and abuse rates have begun to go down in New Mexico. That study was conducted from November 2012 to June 2014.
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.
[box type=”info” style=”rounded”]PAUL GESSING is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation, an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.[/box]
They say it’s better to be lucky than good. Of course, it’s even better to be lucky and good! That is exactly what happened in New Mexico during the 2015 legislative session with regard to reforming the process of civil asset forfeiture. To recap, during the 2015 legislative session, New Mexico’s deeply-divided Legislature unanimously supported significant reforms to the State’s civil asset forfeiture laws. That bill was signed by Governor Susana Martinez, a former prosecutor.