Pubdate: Mon, 15 Feb 2016
Source: New Mexican, The (Santa Fe, NM)
Copyright: 2016 The Santa Fe New Mexican
Author: Milan Simonich


All 18 Senate Republicans, 6 Dems Vote Against Proposed 
Constitutional Amendment

New Mexico won't follow the lead of Colorado and other Western states 
that have legalized marijuana as a recreational drug, at least not this year.

State senators on Sunday night voted 24-17 against a proposed 
constitutional amendment that would have allowed people 25 and older 
to buy and smoke marijuana. The measure also would have legalized 
industrial hemp, a cousin of the marijuana plant, that has myriad 
commercial uses.

All 18 Republicans and six Democrats voted against the proposal to 
legalize marijuana and hemp after a debate lasting about 40 minutes. 
Both advocates and opponents of the marijuana measure used crime as 
their leading argument.

Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, sponsored the proposal and 
said marijuana would help the economy and lessen the strain on public 
agencies. Legalizing recreational pot would mean fewer low-level drug 
arrests, fewer court cases and "increased ancillary revenue" from 
businesses that would spring up because of the pot industry, Ortiz y Pino said.

Several Democrats made similar arguments for legalization.

"This is an economic driver," said Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales. He 
said layoffs at Sprint and other companies in metropolitan 
Albuquerque had weakened the economy, and that marijuana legalization 
would be a benefit as taxpaying pot businesses opened their doors.

The counterpoint came from Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington. He said 
crime in Denver had increased since Colorado voters legalized 
marijuana and it went on sale at commercial outlets in 2014. Revenue 
in Colorado may have risen since marijuana went on the market, but 
costs to taxpayers also have increased because of the drug, he said.

Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, successfully amended Ortiz y Pino's 
bill to change the age at which people could buy marijuana to 25 
instead of 21. Brandt said medical research shows that the human 
brain is not fully developed until 25. Senators approved his 
amendment on a 24-18 vote.

But Brandt then joined the rest of the Republican senators in voting 
against marijuana legalization. A quarter of the Democratic caucus 
also opposed the measure.

Voting against its were Democratic Sens. Clemente Sanchez of Grants, 
John Arthur Smith of Deming, Joseph Cervantes and Mary Kay Papen of 
Las Cruces, and George Munoz and John Pinto of Gallup.

Legalization of industrial hemp, a second component of Ortiz y Pino's 
proposal, received no attention from senators during their debate.

Both the state Senate and the House of Representatives overwhelmingly 
voted last year for a bill that would have authorized hemp research 
at New Mexico State University in anticipation of the federal 
government legalizing the plant for industrial use. But Republican 
Gov. Susana Martinez, a former prosecutor, vetoed the hemp bill.

Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, said industrial hemp would be a 
profitable crop for the state's farmers. Industrial hemp is not a 
recreational drug. It is used to make everything from carpeting to 
auto dashboards.

Ortiz y Pino said Sunday night's debate on marijuana legalization was 
the first time the measure made it to a legislative floor vote in New 
Mexico. He predicted it wouldn't be the last.

Prohibition didn't dampen America's thirst for alcohol, Ortiz y Pino 
said in arguing that outlawing marijuana simply costs the state 
revenue while tying up police with minor drug cases.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom