The state of New Mexico has recently had multiple chances to discuss the legalization of cannabis – and considering more and more states are starting to lean in that direction it’s no surprise that lawmakers all over the country are trying to be the first to make it happen through legislature. Unfortunately, only a few days ago New Mexico’s House Business and Industry Committee tabled the idea of legalization for the time being – but now the Senate passed a decriminalization bill with a 33-9 vote.
Senate Bill 258 was introduced by Senator Joseph Cervantes and would turn possession of a half-ounce or less into a non-criminal charge, with a $50 fine; amounts over this and up to eight ounces would remain a misdemeanor offense. But luckily, less than a half-ounce would be no more harmful to citizens than a parking ticket.
“This would take the small possessions out of the criminal justice system and that should free up, again, the resources of prosecutors, somebody like the governor’s background, to really deal with the violent offenders in our community who we’re not keeping up with,” Sen. Cervantes said.
Even though legalization is still the long-term goal of a few lawmakers in New Mexico, decriminalization at the state level could be a very good place to start and something that hopefully both the Senate and the House can agree on. The bill will now make its way through House committees prior to a full House vote (if approved in committee hearings). Hopefully this bill is better received than the legalization bill that was just stopped in its tracks.
“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.”
Unfortunately, even if a piece of legislation were to reach the governor’s desk, it appears that Governor Martinez has no interest in signing such legislation, not even a simple decriminalization bill that would unclog the justice system of non-violent offenders that have no place being there. However, if vetoed (which, if passed by both chambers, is likely), a two-thirds vote could override that veto and make the bill law anyway.
“We have a serious crime problem in our state, and our courts, judges and prosecutors are spending a great deal of time dealing with people charged with a nonviolent crime,” Cervantes said.
Overall, this is certainly not what some lawmakers were hoping for at the start of this legislative session – but a step forward is a start, no matter how small of a step it is. Decriminalizing cannabis would put New Mexico on the same page as many other states, as well as some of their own local governments such as Santa Fe where possession of one ounce or less is only a $25 fine. We have to hope that this bill receives the same kind of support in the House that it received in the Senate.