HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html New Mexico Drug Reform Bill Passes First Hurdle
Pubdate: Wed, 07 Mar 2001
Source: CNN (US Web)
Copyright: 2001 Cable News Network, Inc.


A drug reform bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts 
of marijuana passed its first hurdle Tuesday by gaining the approval of a 
committee in the New Mexico Legislature.

If ultimately passed by the state's House and Senate, the bill, proposed by 
maverick Gov. Gary Johnson, would make New Mexico one of a handful of U.S. 
states to punish adult possession of an ounce or less of marijuana with a 
fine rather than jail time.

The marijuana provision is part of a package of measures aimed at treating 
drug problems more like health issues than criminal matters, an approach 
Johnson believes will be more successful in reducing abuse than the U.S. 
"war on drugs."

"It's not condoning the use of drugs, but it's just making a statement that 
it's not criminal," Johnson said recently about the bill.

Johnson made headlines in 1999 when he became the first Republican governor 
to speak out in support of decriminalizing many illicit drugs, saying that 
efforts to stamp out their use had been an expensive failure.

Last year, he appointed a panel of experts and officials to recommend 
changes in the state's drug laws and polices and used their findings to 
fashion the reform legislation.

Under the decriminalization bill, possession of one ounce or less of 
marijuana by adults would be punishable by a civil fine of $300 rather than 
being treated as a misdemeanor carrying with it possible jail time.

It would remain a crime for offenders younger than 18.

Other provisions would legalize marijuana for patients with certain medical 
conditions, would allow pharmacies to sell syringes and would require drug 
treatment instead of jail time for certain offenses.

The bill passed its first legislative hearing by a 6-1 vote in the House's 
committee on consumer and public affairs. It must now go through several 
other committees, where opponents have pledged to try and block the bill, 
before a possible House vote. A similar bill must make its way through the 
state Senate.

While the measure would be groundbreaking for New Mexico, about 10 U.S. 
states have similar laws imposing fines instead of jail time for possessing 
small amounts of marijuana, according to Katharine Huffman, director of the 
New Mexico drug policy project for the Lindesmith Center/Drug Policy 
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