Pubdate: Fri, 08 Feb 2013
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2013 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Dan Boyd


Measure Ends Jail Time For Having Small Amounts

SANTA FE - A pair of measures aimed at scaling back New Mexico's
marijuana laws hit the Legislature on Thursday, promising to light up
an old debate.

Gov. Susana Martinez, a former prosecutor, expressed immediate
opposition to the proposals, claiming jail time for possessing small
amounts of marijuana is typically only ordered for people with lengthy
criminal records.

One of the measures introduced Thursday would reduce the penalties
individuals could face for having small amounts of marijuana,
including eliminating the possibility of jail time for such violations.

Rep. Emily Kane, D-Albuquerque, a captain with the Albuquerque Fire
Department, said the measure she is sponsoring would save the state
money, in part by reducing jail overcrowding.

"I feel that incarcerating people who have a small amount of marijuana
is not an appropriate use of our resources," Kane told the Journal.

The other marijuana-related proposal introduced Thursday would force a
state agency to study the budgetary impact of regulating and taxing
pot use. It is sponsored by Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, also an
Albuquerque Democrat.

Former Republican Gov. Gary Johnson, now a Libertarian, proposed
controversial drug-law reforms - including decriminalization measures
- - during his second term in office. New Mexico eventually legalized a
state-run medical marijuana program in 2007, but recreational use of
the drug is still outlawed.

The Drug Policy Alliance of New Mexico, which supports the two
measures introduced Thursday, cited data identifying 3,227 arrests in
New Mexico in 2010 in which marijuana possession was the sole or
primary charge.

Although federal law still prohibits marijuana use, voters in Colorado
and Washington voted in 2012 to legalize, regulate and tax pot,
prompting supporters of decriminalization to claim national public
sentiment now tilts toward such policies.

"It is time to listen to our American voters who are speaking out in
favor of taxing and regulating marijuana like we do alcohol and
tobacco," Ortiz y Pino said in a statement.

However, some GOP lawmakers have questioned whether decriminalization
of marijuana would worsen New Mexico's drug problem.

Martinez has been among those opposing decreased penalties, and a
spokesman for the Republican governor said Thursday she continues to
hold that stance.

"As a prosecutor and district attorney, the governor has seen
firsthand how illegal drug use destroys lives, especially among our
youth, and she opposes drug legalization or decriminalization
efforts," Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said.

"Proponents of these efforts often ignore the fact that the vast
majority of people convicted for possessing small amounts of marijuana
are diverted to treatment programs and those who are sentenced to
prison are individuals with long criminal records with conviction for
things like assault, burglary and other crimes," he added.

Under New Mexico law, possession of up to 8 ounces of marijuana is a
misdemeanor that carries with it a maximum fine of up to $1,000 and
one year in jail.

Kane's bill would impose a maximum civil penalty of $50 for a
first-time violation of having 1 ounce or less of marijuana. The fine
would go up for subsequent violations, and would also increase for
possessing slightly larger amounts of marijuana. However, it would
remain a fourth-degree felony to have more than 8 ounces of marijuana.

Kane, a first-term lawmaker, stressed that her proposal would not
completely decriminalize marijuana use, while also predicting that the
measure would be widely backed by New Mexicans.

"My impression is I'm not going way down some crazy road," Kane


At a glance

House Bill 465

Would decrease penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana.
However, possession penalties would not change for synthetic
marijuana. First stop: House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.

Senate Joint Memorial 31

Would require a study focusing on the economic impact of marijuana
legalization and taxation be presented to lawmakers by Nov. 31. The
state Economic Development Department would oversee the study. First
stop: Senate Rules Committee. 
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