Drug Policy Reform Recap in the #NMLEG

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Our friends at the Drug Policy Alliance worked their tails off during the 2015 New Mexico legislative session.logo_fb_360

They were working a number of great bills to reform civil asset forfeiture (it’s a much more serious and important topic than its banal name suggests), grow an industrial hemp industry in New Mexico, reduce marijuana possession penalties, along with many others.

There were some setbacks to drug policy reforms as well, but for the most part it was a successful session where some major steps were taken toward creating more equitable and just drug policies.

Check out DPA-NM’s final legislative recap below to catch up on the good, the bad, and the ugly:

Dear Allies, Advocates, and Friends,

The 2015 legislative session is complete! Thank you for following and supporting our work from start to finish! Much of the progress made this session would be impossible without our allies in the legislature.

We would like to thank several legislators for sponsoring key legislation during this session: Senator Joseph Cervantes (D), Senator Richard Martinez (D), Senator Cisco McSorley (D), Senator Bill O’Neill (D), Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D), Senator Michael Sanchez (D), Senator Lisa Torraco (R), Representative Deborah Armstrong (D), Representative Alonzo Baldonado (R), Representative Zachary Cook (R), Representative Antonio Maestas (D), and Representative Bill McCamley (D).  Thank you!!

Well over 1,500 pieces of legislation were introduced with fewer than 200 passing both chambers and going to the Governor.  Only a handful of those will eventually become law. However, we are excited about several pieces of legislation we supported that have made their way to the governor. Read further for more details!


Successes- On the Governor’s Desk

HB 560, Representative Cook’s asset forfeiture reform legislation passed unanimously through the House and Senate! Current civil asset forfeiture laws allows police to seize and keep property of citizens who haven’t even been charged with a crime. HB560 is de­signed to end this unfair practice – also known as “policing for profit” – in New Mexico. For decades civil asset forfeiture practices have robbed innocent people, taking money right out of their wallets—or even taking their home and their car—without even charging them with a crime. Like other drug war programs, civil asset forfeiture is disproportionately used against poor peo­ple of color who cannot afford to hire lawyers to get their property back.

SB 42, Senator Ortiz y Pino’s Medicaid for incarcerated persons legislation, passed through the House 59-6! Earlier in the session, SB 42 passed through the Senate 35-1. SB 42 requires the Human Services Department (HSD) to ensure people who are incarcerated have access to healthcare coverage through Medicaid, so they can get treatment services immediately when they re-enter the community. The bill requires HSD to stop the practice of terminating Medicaid when a person becomes incarcerated, and to give individuals who are not already enrolled in Medicaid the opportunity to apply for coverage before they are released.

SB 94, Senator McSorley’s industrial hemp bill, passed through the House 54-12! Earlier in the session, SB 94 passed through the Senate 33-8. SB 94 will legalize the licensing, growing, and processing of industrial hemp. Licensing will be carried out by the New Mexico Dept. of Agriculture, and NMSU will be tasked with preliminary research and development.

HB 332, Representative Maestas’ “Reduce Probation Time For Good Behavior” bill, passed through the House and Senate unanimously. Should HB 332 be signed by the governor, for every thirty days of probation an individual serves without violation, thirty days shall be removed from that individual’s probationary sentence.

Strong bipartisan support does not guarantee a signature by the governor, so we will continue to work diligently to give the aforementioned bills their best chance at becoming law.


Other Successes

One of our goals this year was to get the Senate to vote favorably for reducing penalties for marijuana and paraphernalia possession.  We knew we wouldn’t be able to pass this type of legislation in the House so we focused our effort in the Senate and it was a success!  Senator Cervantes’ marijuana decriminalization bill (SB 383) passed the Senate on a razor thin margin of 21-20 with two Republicans voting in support.  This vote sends an important message to our Governor and sets a foundation for our work in future years.

New Mexico continues to experience a drug overdose epidemic that is not prioritized by the Martinez Administration.  This session we worked with Senator Richard Martinez’ to pass the ‘Good Samaritan’ legislation (SB 441) that would provide further immunity to persons on probation or parole if they call 911 on behalf of someone who is overdosing.  Sadly, people are afraid to call as they fear arrest.  SB411 passed unanimously in the Senate but died in the House as the clock ran out.  We are committed to bringing this vital legislation back year after year until it passes both chambers and becomes law.


Bills We Opposed

All of the bills we brought to your attention in our “Bills We Oppose” did not pass thanks to your voices in opposition. These bills include Representative Rehm’s drugged driving bill (HB 120), Representative Montoya’s synthetic drug bill (HB 354), and Representative Pacheco’s legislation regarding background checks for medical cannabis employees (HB 527). Thank you for speaking out against these pro-drug war bills.



Unfortunately, Senator O’Neill and Representative Baldonado’s ‘Ban the Box’ legislation (SB 583) died in House Judiciary. SB 583 would have required private employers to remove the box on job applications which asks if the applicant has been convicted of a felony. Background checks were not affected by SB 583, and employers could still ask a prospective employee if they had committed a crime. A huge thank you to Young Women United, Crossroads for Women, and PB&J who took the lead on this legislation. We were honored to be their ally and we look forward to working with them in future years to make this legislation a reality.

Although SJR 2, Senator Ortiz y Pino’s joint resolution to legalize recreational marijuana was failed to be scheduled for Senate Judiciary it did make it out of its first committee in Rules.  The vote in Rules was historic, the first time ever that a marijuana legalization effort received a favorable vote in the state legislature. We are optimistic that the tenure of the conversation in the Roundhouse is changing – we no longer hear “if” but “when.”

SB 516 and HB 466, sponsored by Senator Ortiz y Pino and Representative Armstrong, respectively, would have established a medical cannabis research board and fund. These bills would have strengthened our medical cannabis program, but were unfortunately not moved forward in the last days of the session.


Looking Forward

Legislative sessions, while chaotic at times, are wonderful opportunities to improve New Mexico’s drug policies, advocate for criminal justice reform, and more. While post-session work is already underway, Governor Martinez’s signing period extends our legislative work into April. We will be keeping you informed on how you can help pressure the Governor to sign the bills we all worked so hard on.  Stay tuned!

As we look ahead to the rest of our year, we would like to take the opportunity to remind everyone of our upcoming Reform Conference. Reform will take place on November 18th-21st in Washington DC. This is a one of a kind convergence of drug policy reformers and activists. Please consider attending! For those unable to attend for financial reasons, scholarship applications will be made available shortly.

Stay tuned for our final legislative update after Governer Martinez’ signing period, and keep track of our other work @DPANM

Thank you all again for supporting DPA through the session and beyond!

In solidarity,

Emily, Jessica, and Sam