Pubdate: Tue, 11 Feb 2014
Source: Times Union (Albany, NY)
Copyright: 2014 Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation
Authors: Barry Massey And Russell Contreras, Associated Press
Note: AP Writer Russell Contreras contributed to this report from Albuquerque.


SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A proposal to let New Mexico voters decide
whether to legalize recreational marijuana stalled in a legislative
committee on Tuesday and is likely dead for the year.

The Senate Rules Committee deadlocked 5-5 on whether to send the
constitutional amendment to another committee for consideration. The
proposal would have made it legal for adults 21 and over to possess
and use marijuana. It would have been left to the Legislature to later
establish a system for regulating and taxing marijuana.

The proposal likely would have faced difficulty in the
Democratic-controlled Legislature, particularly because of opposition
from rural and conservative lawmakers.

Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, an Albuquerque Democrat who sponsored the
measure, said he saw little chance of the issue being revived this
session because it's unlikely any committee members would change their
votes before the Legislature adjourns late next week.

He vowed to renew the proposal in next year's Legislature.

"We'll just keep trying until it happens. I think it's inevitable,"
said Ortiz y Pino.

Colorado and Washington state have legalized marijuana. Pot stores
opened in Colorado last month, and sales are expected to start in
Washington later this year.

Four Republicans on the committee opposed the measure and were joined
by Democratic Sen. Clemente Sanchez of Grants. Five Democratic
senators supported the measure.

Had the Senate and House approved the proposal, it would have gone
straight to voters to decide in the November general election. A
constitutional amendment, unlike a bill that changes state law,
doesn't go to the governor to be signed or vetoed. Republican Gov.
Susana Martinez, a former prosecutor, opposes legalizing marijuana.

Several opponents objected to using the state constitution to decide
the marijuana issue.

"I just don't think smoking a bowl is a constitutional right," said
Sen. Mark Moores, an Albuquerque Republican. "It's not a
constitutional right to smoke cigarettes. It's not a constitutional
right to smoke pot."

Proponents said pot legalization in Colorado and Washington state
reflected a changing public attitude toward marijuana use across the

Emily Kaltenbach, New Mexico's state director with the Drug Policy
Alliance, a group seeking to change the nation's drug laws, told
lawmakers that New Mexico voters were ready to voice their opinions on
legalizing marijuana.

"It's time for this debate," Kaltenbach said. "Let's design a system
that works for New Mexicans."

New Mexico's sheriffs opposed the proposal.

Jack LeVick, executive director of the New Mexico Sheriffs'
Association, said sheriffs had unanswered questions about how states
that have legalized marijuana are coping with changes to laws.

"We prefer to wait two or three years to see what happens in Colorado
and Washington first," LeVick said.

Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, expressed concerns that the measure
would create a black market where users could get cheaper marijuana
over regulated pot.

He said he also worried that legalization could have harmful effects
as marijuana becomes readily available.

"Are we going to have children come to school stoned?" he

Ortiz y Pino said creating a system to legally produce and distribute
marijuana would take money away from drug kingpins. There's already a
black market for drugs, he said, and teenagers currently have no
problem obtaining marijuana.

After the vote, Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said, "The governor
has always said that the New Mexico constitution is not the
appropriate place to consider such a sweeping policy change, and the
many complications and unforeseen consequences that would come with
such a change."

AP Writer Russell Contreras contributed to this report from
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