Thursday, February 7, 2013

Double Marijuana Hit

Not one but two pieces of legislation were introduced in the state Legislature.

The first is one I discussed with Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, a few weeks ago.

Senate Joint Memorial 31 requests that the state Economic Development Department convene work group, conduct a study and report back to the Legislature on the budgetary implications of taxing and regulating marijuana in New Mexico.

"It is time to study how wasteful New Mexico’s punitive marijuana laws are and how they continue to sustain a massive, increasingly violent underground economy, waste scarce law enforcement resources, and rob New Mexico tax-payers of millions in potential revenue," said Emily Kaltenbach,  state director with the Drug Policy Alliance in a news release.

Ortiz y Pino told me earlier that he would like to have a study in hand when he introduces a constitutional amendment to legalize the drug next year.

"Whether by the hand of lawmakers or a fed-up electorate, these laws are going to change," Kaltenbach said. She said a study would also "bring to light how the safe regulation of marijuana would undermine criminal enterprises on both sides of the border, while boosting New Mexico’s economy and protecting New Mexicans’ safety."

The voters in the states of Colorado and Washington decided to legalize marijuana last year.

The other piece of legislation is House Bill 465 sponsored by Rep.Emily Kane, D-Albuquerque.

Under the bill, possession of up to 4 ounces  of marijuana would be a civil penalty with increasing fines between $50 and $300. Possession of more than four but less than eight ounces would be a misdemeanor with no potential for jail time.

Currently, in this state, possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is a petty misdemeanor crime with fines and possible jail time. Possession of more than one ounce and up to 8 ounces is a full misdemeanor crime with bigger fines and possible jail time of up to a year.

Kane, a firefighter in Albuquerque, said in her experience in responding to fires, accidents and incidence of violence, she's seen plenty of bad situations caused by alcohol and drugs like meth and crack. "But I've yet to respond to a call caused by marijuana," she told me.

This bill appears to have legs at least in the House. Among the co-sponsors of Kane's bill are House Speaker Kenny Martinez, Majority Leader Rick Miera and Majority Whip Moe Maestas.

More in tomorrow's New Mexican.