#NMLEG Progressive Bill of the Day | 1-30-15

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A bright spot for progressives in the somewhat dim 2014 election was the successful passage of two marijuana decriminalization ballot questions in Bernalillo and Santa Fe Counties. The questions passed by wide margins and, because of the size of those counties, more than 40% of all New Mexico’s voters weighed in on marijuana decriminalization.

Now that the legislative session is back in full swing, drug policy reform is back in the spotlight and one New Mexico State Senator is trying to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana statewide (a similar bill passed the House in 2013 with bi-partisan support).

Senator Joseph Cervantes’ SB 383 would  “[reduce] the penalty structure for possession of up to 4 ounces to a civil penalty with increasing fines while taking away the potential for jail time for any amount up to 8 ounces.” The Drug Policy Alliance came with this press release on the bill today:

Santa Fe, NM – Today, New Mexico State Senator Joseph Cervantes, representing Dona Ana County, introduced Senate Bill 383 to reduce penalties for adults who possess small amounts of marijuana.  The proposed legislation reduces the penalty structure for possession of up to 4 ounces to a civil penalty with increasing fines while taking away the potential for jail time for any amount up to 8 ounces.  Currently, in New Mexico, possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana is a petty misdemeanor crime with fines and possible jail time; over 1 ounce and up to 8 ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor crime with large fines or possible jail time of up to 1 year. Similar legislation passed the House of Representatives in 2013 with bi-partisan support.

Sen. Joseph Cervantes

Sen. Joseph Cervantes

“I am troubled by the millions of taxpayer dollars that are spent every year on processing thousands of low level marijuana misdemeanor offenders — dollars that might be better spent by hard-pressed law enforcement agencies on more pressing public safety needs,” stated Emily Kaltenbach, the New Mexico State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.  “If ever there was a bill that advanced the smart on crime agenda, this is it.”

New Mexicans agree it is time to change the way we are policing marijuana in the state.  In November, voters in Santa Fe County and Bernalillo County voiced overwhelming support for marijuana decriminalization; Bernalillo County voting 60% and Santa Fe County voting 73% in favor of statewide decriminalization.  The state’s first vote on marijuana policy was not merely local; more than 40% of state voters weighed in and a clear majority of those casting ballots sent the message that voters are ready to end criminal penalties for marijuana possession. A 2013 poll by Sanderoff showed 57% of New Mexicans in favor of decriminalization.

“Having to expend scarce police resources pursuing and arresting non-violent adults for possessing small amounts of marijuana threatens  our public’s safety,” stated Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) Executive Director Neill Franklin. “When our police officers are on duty they should have access to the resources they need in order to deal with serious violent crime and to keep our communities safe.”

Limited resources like investigative time, crime lab analysts and jail and prison beds are needed for pedophiles, rapists and murderers.”

To date, eighteen states and the District of Columbia have reduced penalties for marijuana possession.  As of today, over 120 million people, or 1/3 of the U.S. population, live in jurisdictions where marijuana has been essentially decriminalized – meaning there is no jail time associated with possession.

The city of Santa Fe decriminalized small amounts of marijuana in 2014.