Move to legalize cannabis continues

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One school of thought is that cannabis, or marijuana, is relatively benign and ought to be legalized, regulated and taxed to spur economic growth and end the harm caused by criminalization.

An opposing viewpoint is that it’s a dangerous drug that needs to re-main unavailable legally, with criminal punishment of those who break the law.

Proponents of legalization in the New Mexico Legislature for several years have tried unsuccessfully to win a majority of state legislators over in a bid to legalize, regulate and tax the production and sale of cannabis to adults 21 years or older.

Expect 2018 to be no different as Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, will again introduce a resolution during the four-week legislative session to put the issue on the ballot for voters to decide, a move that would not require support from the governor.

Prospects for success

Working in favor of Ortiz y Pino and other legislators bringing similar bills is a shift in public opinion over the past decade, with a majority in New Mexico and nationally believing recreational cannabis should be legal.

The short nature of the 2018 session means the resolution will have an uphill battle being squeezed into the legislative process. But the economic potential of a legal marijuana market in New Mexico has elevated the subject at the statehouse over the last few years, with proponents pointing to similar markets continuing to open.

Five western states have legalized cannabis, leading to booming industries.

California legalized adult recreational use in 2017 and its first retail outlets opened earlier this month. With California, one of the world’s largest economies, joining the legalization wave, 20 percent of the U.S. population now has the ability to walk into a store and legally purchase the herb for personal use.

Other western states joining the recreational movement are Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Nevada and Colorado. On the East Coast, Massachusetts and Maine are expected to see stores open in 2018.

The growing number of states that have or are debating whether to legalize cannabis are doing so in spite of the federal classification of cannabis as a Schedule One drug. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who assumed office in 2017, is no fan of legalizing marijuana.

Earlier this month he rescinded an Obama-era Justice Department memo widely viewed as diverting federal prosecutorial resources away from state-sanctioned and regulated cannabis industries. Sessions did not instruct U.S. Attorneys to begin prosecuting cannabis businesses but left it up to individual U.S. Attorneys to decide whether to prosecute such cases.

During the 2017 legislative session, legalization efforts barely moved through the committee process. But the topic was hot, with a packed committee room during a presentation to the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee on the potential economic benefits of legalization. The study by Kelly O’Donnell, an economist who served as director of State Tax Policy, deputy Cabinet secretary for Economic Development, and super-intendent of the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department during Gov. Bill Richardson’s ad-ministration, was commissioned by Ultra Health, a provider of medical marijuana.

While O’Donnell didn’t project the amount of tax revenue the state might realize from legalization, she did look at job potential, estimating 11,400 new manufacturing and marketing jobs, and 4,780 jobs in businesses that service the cannabis industry.

While the potential economic benefits are a driving force for many, Ortiz y Pino doesn’t lose sight of what to him is a compelling human rights reason for cannabis legalization.

“… We have damaged far more lives in this state by making marijuana illegal than marijuana use has ever damaged,” he said in an email to New Mexico In Depth.

“And I don’t even have to get into the truly discriminatory way in which anti-marijuana laws are applied to minority youth, to know that jobs lost, college denied, careers ruled off-limits and time wasted in jails, courts and probation offices have caused so many more problems than could ever happen under legalized marijuana.”

Ortiz y Pino

Ortiz y Pino argued that cannabis is readily available right now, but its underground status fosters criminal activity, which he likened to alcohol during the 1920s and 1930s, when it was illegal.

“… Our national experience with prohibition of alcohol ought to teach us how to deal with marijuana: it is counter-productive to drive it underground, where it fosters enormous criminal activity, violence, shame and wasted effort,” he said.

“Far better to legalize, regulate, tax and control. Bring it out into the light of day and recognize it for what it is: a way many people have found to relax, deal with stress and help improve their moods … nothing more than that.”

There are a lot of people who agree with Ortiz y Pino.

Polling by the Pew Research Center shows that public opinion nationally has flipped over the past de-cade. A September 2017 poll found 57 percent of Americans favor legalization. A decade ago, that figure was only 37 percent.
In New Mexico, a higher percentage — 61 percent — supports legalization, according to an Albuquerque Journal poll conducted in October 2016 by Research & Polling Inc.

Not everyone is convinced

Rehm

Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, isn’t sold on the idea, however. A retired captain from the Bernalillo County Sheriff ’s Department, he believes legalization proponents aren’t considering the tremendous down-sides and says take a look at states that have already legalized cannabis to understand the potential negative impacts of legalization on New Mexico.

Rehm reeled off examples of negative consequences he’s heard about in other states, saying that drug dealers are moving to those states, growing marijuana legally, and trafficking it to other states.

He’s gotten an earful about negative impacts in Colorado, mainly from public administrators and law enforcement personnel in his networks. For instance, he’s heard from school administrators in New Mexico that Colorado is grappling with both teachers and students coming to school under the influence of cannabis, and with higher truancy rates. He’s heard about significant increases in emergency room overdoses due to specialty products like edible cannabis. And he’s heard from law enforcement personnel that more people are being busted for driving under the influence of cannabis.

Ultimately, Rehm thinks state leaders should look much more closely at the lessons being learned in other states, before making a decision about legalization in New Mexico.

“What everybody is looking at, is we’ll get all this money, but with the money comes the bad,” Rehm said. “And that’s what you need to measure.”

2018 legislative session: A look at critical issues before state lawmakers

6 thoughts on “Move to legalize cannabis continues

  1. I use it it helps me out in many ways legalize it 4 US we need it 2 help ourselves the pain goes Away with a joint up in smoke

  2. It’s so stupid to me that the ones who want to stop legalization. Always complain about the smallest negative behavior like going to school stoned.instead of on meth or alcohol an ppl who do cause problems an outragious effects on themselves an others around them like DWI’s that actually cause deaths all across the world or the fact it’s not like crack ,cocaine ,or heroin that’s ruining lives an causing deaths ..but they bitch an moan about weed cuz others make profit some how or students getting stoned or driving slower not fast or blanking out like alcohol would but get those things are legal ..an so is heroin pharma an hospitals supply all these synthetic drugs that causes more harm than good but yet legal ..or cigarettes is another one that is legal but yet causes more death ..an weed has never causes a person to die but they complain that edibles or dabs put ppl in the hospital damn they got the lamest excuses I’ve heard ..it bothers me a lot cuz I’ve smoked for over 14yrs an never had a problem only the fact it has to many an to harsh of a punishment where I live luckily I never got in trouble but I’ve felt better smoking an my state would benefit from it in all ways an so would the ppl who want it legal so please do something already an make a change let ppl vote for reactional use in all states ..you have already let all of the other drugs legal now it’s weed an I bet the government is scared because it will be a solution to many problems an they don’t want that to happen..they make money from problems not solutions ..i vote for legalization an for it to be reactional just like cigarettes or a damn aspirin otc drug that clearly states internal bleeding or death on the damn bottle so hurry up an stop all this bitching about why weed is bad an do it already it’s so damn sad to see ppl an government complain about the smallest things but on the other hand let a bunch of laws get passed that don’t matter but cause a lot of problems for the ppl ..in my opinion it’s all about money an corpations are probably dumping cash in there pockets like the tobacco an alcohol business .if I was governor or president I would have legalized it way back an stop a lot of wars an petty crimes on weed .an changed the legal limit for cigarettes an alcohol much higher .

  3. You can’t overdose on weed it takes consuming your body weight in one hour smoking or eating it and no one has ever done it. Peanuts kill 200 people a year we should outlaw peanuts. COME ON PEOPLE NOW YOUR FACTS before you spead legal lies.

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  5. People like Rehm are a danger to society. Policy should never be established based on fake news, of which Rehm’s litany of fears is a perfect example.

  6. Legalization should be about Freedom and Good Health, not about how much we can tax a plant that has great Medical Value.
    The year 2017 started with some big significance for the states medical cannabis program, Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act(2007), it was the 10 year anniversary of when the the LECUA was passed into law, on March 13th 2007. And now 2018 is also very significant, as it is the 40th year now since enacting HB 329 (1978) the nation’s first law recognizing the medical value in cannabis- that is really big for New Mexico as no other medical cannabis state can say this and as a community should be proud and celebrate this achievement.
    Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino makes the excellent point of harm reduction in saying, “… We have damaged far more lives in this state by making marijuana illegal than marijuana use has ever damaged,”…and can change this with expansion of the State’s Medical Cannabis Program and even see that economic benefit that is sought as well.

    The State’s Medical Cannabis Program expansion is now “Medically Necessary”and the State needs to allow the Department of Health to open the application process, the State needs to increase the Licensed Non Profit Producer plant count, add more licensed non-profit producers, in conjunction with other measures to ensure safe access to medicine and to be compliant with the law. Currently there is ⅓ of a cannabis plant per one person in the medical cannabis program. The State can allow the Department and Medical Cannabis Advisory Board to exercise that important responsibility they have to all New Mexicans, by opening up and accepting producer applications under newly created rules that would have 3 different licensing options.

    The Medical Cannabis Program officials can create 3 different licensing options to include:
    A Licensed Producer to operate only as a grow facility for distribution to dispensaries.
    A Licensed Producer to operate only as a dispensary for distribution to patients.
    A LNPP to operate both as a grow facility and licensed for to operate dispensaries – with a limit of 3 store fronts per this type of license.
    In addition to reducing current and new licensing fees.

    Along with the approval of ALL the recommendations made by the Doctors on the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board in 2017, having the Department of Health to open the application process to add more licensed non-profit producers, and increasing the amount of medical cannabis plants a LNPPs and Patients can grow; could all be done to benefit all the residents in the State of New Mexico.

    In conjunction with the Possibility of opening the program up to allow for more participants statewide; current LECUA law states the following:
    “Section 3. DEFINITIONS.–As used in the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act:
    B. “debilitating medical condition” means: (1) cancer; (2) glaucoma; (3) multiple sclerosis; (4) damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord, with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity; (5) epilepsy; (6) positive status for human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immune deficiency syndrome; (7) admitted into hospice care in accordance with rules promulgated by the department; or (8) any other medical condition, medical treatment or disease as approved by the department; ”

    WhereAs (Section 8) [the Law could state the following] “ any other chronic or persistent medical symptom that either substantially limits a person’s ability to conduct one or more of major life activities as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, or if not alleviated, may cause serious harm to the person’s safety, physical, or mental health.”
    And that would provide great harm reduction across the state along with improving the health of the State.

    And finally, Reciprocity -Recognition of nonresident medical cannabis cards, this would allow for increased tourism in the state as people could come and enjoy events like Balloon Fiesta and know they can still safely access medical cannabis.

    Today the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program has over 50,000 registered participants (most all of whom are voters) with 35 licensed non-profit producers or LNPP’s now growing 14,550 medical cannabis plants, as the program hits the end of its 10th year. The Medical Cannabis Program (MCP) was created in 2007, as the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, under chapter 210 Senate Bill 523. New Mexico’s medical cannabis history started in 1978, after public hearings the legislature enacted H.B. 329, the nation’s first law recognizing the medical value of cannabis…the first law.

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