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Finding a Compromise on Marijuana Laws

They say that politics is the art of compromise and we’ll see if it holds here in New Mexico. Two measures introduced last week in the State Legislature try to find a middle ground – not legalizing marijuana, but reducing penalties for possession.

While a new poll shows that a majority of our citizens support the legalization of marijuana, it’s a hard sell legislatively. This is an important political reality for those who would like to get some form of legalization, either decriminalization or for recreational use – our lack of a ballot initiative mechanism means the legislature is the only option for new law to come about.

The two measures offered up do not legalize marijuana. Instead, House Bill 465 decreases penalties for possession of small amounts of the drug, changing it from possible jail time to a ticket and a fine. Senate Joint Memorial 31 would authorize a study to determine the economic effects of legalization as a first step toward giving senators an opportunity to develop new laws for weed.

Jail overcrowding is an issue here in NM, so the House Bill would have the immediate effect of lessening the number of people incarcerated for marijuana offenses. It essentially puts marijuana in a class of illegal drugs by itself, separating it out from “hard” drugs like cocaine, heroin or meth. It would also keep a possession charge from creating a criminal record, something seen as unjust by those who believe marijuana use is pretty much endemic among young people. This at a time when our President freely admitted that he smoked marijuana growing up.

Representative Emily Kane is sponsoring the House Bill. Kane's bill would impose a maximum civil penalty of $50 for a first-time offense (one ounce or less) and fines would be increased for subsequent violations or for larger amounts. But even more than half a pound of weed would be the lowest class of felony – fourth degree.

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