HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Governor's Decriminalization Bill Stalls in House
Pubdate: Tue, 29 Jan 2002
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2002 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Barry Massey
Bookmark: (Johnson, Gary)
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


SANTA FE (AP) -- A proposal to decriminalize the possession of small 
amounts of marijuana ran into a dead end Tuesday in a House committee.

The Consumer and Public Affairs Committee shelved the proposal on a 
unanimous voice vote.

Supporters acknowledged that the measure probably was dead for the 30- day 
session   -   a victim partly of election year pressures in the 
Legislature. All 70 House seats are up for election this year.

The measure was one of the priorities of Republican Gov. Gary Johnson for 
overhauling New Mexico's drug laws.

The legislation would have lifted criminal penalties the possession of up 
to one ounce of marijuana for people 18 and older. The offense would have 
been treated like a traffic violation, subject to a civil fine but no 
arrest, jail time or criminal record.

"I understand it's one of the more controversial bills of the package. It 
is very difficult to deal with in 30 days, particularly in an election 
year," said former Gov. Toney Anaya, who is lobbying for the drug law 
changes on behalf of the Center for Policy Reform, a nonprofit group 
affiliated with the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation.

The committee acted quickly without hearing testimony from proponents and 

Rep. Gail Beam, D-Albuquerque, the sponsor of the bill, made brief comments 
and then the panel tabled the measure.

Rep. Patsy Trujillo Knauer, D-Santa Fe, the panel chairwoman, said the drug 
policy changes were too far-reaching to be handled in the rush of a 30-day 
session, which traditionally focuses on the budget and financial issues.

Tabling the bill means it has been set aside. It can be considered again, 
but that appeared unlikely with the marijuana proposal. Tabling a bill is a 
way of blocking legislation without directly voting to reject it.

In New Mexico, possessing an ounce or less of marijuana is a misdemeanor. A 
first conviction carries a fine of at least $50 and up to 15 days in jail. 
Possession of more than eight ounces is a felony punishable by 18 months in 

Eleven states have lifted criminal sanctions for possession of small 
amounts of marijuana.

Darren White, executive director of Protect New Mexico, a group opposing 
Johnson's drug law changes, said he was pleased with the committee's 
decision. Lifting criminal penalties for marijuana possession by adults, he 
said, would send a message to children "that there is no great risk in 
smoking marijuana."

Johnson also is advocating the legalization of the medical use of marijuana 
and giving judges more discretion in sentencing drug law offenders.

Also Tuesday, the House committee voted to forward "without recommendation" 
to the Judiciary Committee a proposal to allow judges to decide whether to 
depart from mandatory sentences for "habitual" repeat felony offenders, 
including drug crimes.


On the Net:

Protect New Mexico:

Marijuana Policy Project:

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws:
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