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.”
Legal recreational marijuana won’t be coming to New Mexico anytime soon. The House Business and Industry Committee voted 9-1 on Monday to block a bill that would have legalized, taxed and regulated marijuana for adults over 21. The hearing lasted for more than two hours, but it became apparent during the debate that the measure would fail. The bill sponsor, Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces, tried to persuade the committee by telling members that marijuana legalization in New Mexico is inevitable. “This is going to happen, whether it’s this year or 10 years from now,” McCamley said.
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.
In his latest batch of commutations, Barack Obama commuted the sentence of someone with New Mexico ties arrested for a drug offense, the third time he’s done so in the last 13 months. Obama announced the commutations of sentences to 111 individuals Monday, bringing his total to 673 commutations, more than the last 10 presidents combined. This was Obama’s second big batch of commutations, largely for nonviolent drug offenses, this month. Earlier this month, Obama commuted the sentence of Jose Carlos Arras Jr. of Albuquerque. Arras was convicted in 2002 of transporting more than 200 pounds of marijuana with the intent to sell.
When the U.S Department of Justice last week announced they would stop using private prisons, many New Mexicans questioned whether New Mexico might follow suit. The DOJ decision to close private prisons will have no effect on the five privately run prisons in the state, as those contracts are managed by the state. NM Political Report was unable to reach Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel or his staff about details on the state’s contract with private companies who run prisons. The only private prison in New Mexico with federal ties is set to close in October as the Federal Bureau of Prisons did not renew a contract. Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, said the prison closure in Cibola County is an opportunity to expand public prisons in the state.
Despite a city ordinance that calls for the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, Santa Fe police officers are still arresting people and sending them to jail for possession. That’s according to a review by the Santa Fe Reporter, nearly two years after the city council passed the ordinance and 15 months after the ordinance was implemented. The officers are instead using the state law, which still calls for arrests and jail time, to make the arrests. The decriminalization calls for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana to be punishable by a $25 fine; the state law, however calls for up to a $100 fine for a first-time offender and up to 15 days in jail. A second offense, again for one ounce or less, could cost the offender $1,000 and up to one year in jail.
Darren White’s view on marijuana changed drastically in the past two decades. Nearly 20 years ago, he resigned from then-Gov. Gary Johnson’s administration after Johnson backed marijuana legalization. Now, White not only backs Johnson, he’s come around to Johnson’s point of view on marijuana legalization (with some caveats). Related: See why White is backing Johnson for president
White isn’t alone among Republicans (yes, White remains a Republican despite backing the Libertarian Party nominee for president). A recently-released poll by YouGov found that a narrow plurality of Republicans back marijuana legalization: 45 percent to 42 percent.
State Auditor Tim Keller wants answers from the state Department of Health for delays in the processing of cards for medical cannabis program patients. In a letter to DOH Secretary-designate Lynn Gallagher sent yesterday, Keller writes that that his office will audit the department’s compliance with the legally-required 30-day waiting period for processing applications of new and returning medical cannabis patients. Patients are required to renew their cards every year. As NM Political Report and other news outlets have recently reported, thousands of patients are waiting as much as two or three times the required time period to receive their card, despite a state statute requiring the department to process applications in no longer than 30 days. Patients waiting in the limbo period aren’t legally allowed to buy cannabis, even if they were members of the program and have been prescribed cannabis by their doctors.
Jason Barker has been a medical cannabis patient in New Mexico for the past year and a half. His qualifications for the state program amount to his complex posttraumatic stress disorder diagnoses, a condition he said developed after being molested as a child, dealing with physical abuse as an adult and working as an EMT in South Carolina. When his PTSD symptoms get bad, Barker said he usually avoids the outside world “because things become that hard to deal with.”
Related: DOH gets warned about medical marijuana delays
This happened earlier this year when the state Department of Health, which administers the program, delayed Barker’s renewal in the program for 58 days total and 28 days after its expiration. State law requires each medical cannabis patient renew their cards every year, though that waiting period is supposed to last one month at most. The waiting time made Barker unable to legally purchase cannabis, putting him in what he called “a legal grey area.”
During the time Barker didn’t have access to cannabis, his PTSD symptoms kicked back into gear.
A New Mexico health provider and cannabis advocate is at the forefront of the possible massive change to how marijuana is treated in the United States. Bryan Krumm, a nurse practitioner and director of Harmony Psychiatric, filed a petition in 2009 to have cannabis taken off Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Substances in Schedule I are considered to be the most dangerous, have no medical use and have a high potential for abuse. Krumm’s is one of three pending petitions. Earlier this month, the Drug Enforcement Administration sent a letter to the U.S. Senate indicating a decision on marijuana will be made sometime this summer.