Pubdate: Fri, 30 Nov 2012
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2012 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Deborah Baker
Page: C1


Group Pitches Idea To Legislative Committee

It's been a decade since there's been any serious talk of marijuana 
decriminalization in the state Capitol, but the 2013 legislative 
session could bring a whiff of - um - reform.

The Drug Policy Alliance on Thursday pitched a proposal to lawmakers 
to decrease penalties for having small amounts of marijuana - 
eliminating any penalty for less than 1 ounce, and reducing penalties 
and eliminating jail time for 1 to 8 ounces.

Currently, possession of up to 8 ounces is a misdemeanor that under 
the law could trigger a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to a year in jail.

The alliance's New Mexico director, Emily Kaltenbach, said arresting 
adults for having small amounts of marijuana wastes criminal justice 
resources that could better be used elsewhere, as well as 
jeopardizing jobs and creating other hardships for those arrested.

"We see this draft bill as being smart on crime," Kaltenbach told the 
interim Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee.

Former Republican Gov. Gary Johnson, now a Libertarian, had some 
lawmakers in an uproar and fractured the state GOP with his advocacy 
for drug-law reforms after he was elected in 1998 to a second term. 
He proposed decriminalization measures as part of broader reforms, 
most recently on his way out the door in 2002.

New Mexico eventually legalized medical marijuana under Johnson's 
successor, Democrat Bill Richardson.

But the current governor, Republican Susana Martinez - a career 
prosecutor and district attorney from Dona Ana County - "opposes drug 
legalization or decriminalization efforts," her spokesman, Scott 
Darnell, said Thursday.

According to the alliance, there were 3,277 arrests in New Mexico in 
2010 in which marijuana possession was the sole or primary charge. 
Marijuana arrests were 34 percent of all drug arrests, according to 
the alliance.

Dona Ana County accounted for 28 percent of the overall arrests; Dona 
Ana and Chaves Counties had the highest arrest rates.

Fifteen states have enacted some form of marijuana decriminalization, 
lawmakers were told. Colorado and Washington voted recently to 
legalize, regulate and tax marijuana.

"Against that backdrop, this bill is quite modest," Daniel Abrahamson 
, the national organization's legal affairs director, told the committee.

Republican opponents of the proposal said the alliance's arguments 
were weak, the bill was flawed, and decriminalization would only 
create a bigger market for marijuana and worsen New Mexico's drug problem.

They objected that, under the proposal, possession of 8 ounces or 
more - with no upper limit - of marijuana would be a misdemeanor 
punishable by a fine of up to $1,000. Currently, it's a fourth degree felony.

The proposed legislation provides that possession of 1 ounce or less 
would not be subject to a fine or penalty; possession of more than 1 
ounce and up to 4 ounces would be subject to a civil penalty of up to 
$100; and possession of more than 4 ounces and less than 8 ounces 
would be subject to a civil penalty of up to $500.

Rep. Dennis Kintigh, R-Roswell, a retired FBI agent, said the 
proposal would "trivialize how we deal with drugs."
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