The state House of Representatives approved a measure that is set to legalize the use of marijuana for recreational purposes in New Mexico after a three-hour debate on 7th March night. Under the proposal, any resident that is 21 years or above would be allowed to purchase, possess and use marijuana, though the measure will also create an oversight commission of the state.

After passing by a narrow margin (36-34), House Bill 356 will next be tabled on the floor of the Senate for consideration. Once the bill is approved by the Senate, it will head to Governor Michelle Lujan Grishan for her signature to pass it into law. Fortunately, the governor has confessed in public that she supports the legalization of recreational cannabis as long as there are proper safeguards in place.

The passing of the bill into law would make New Mexico the 11th state to legalize cannabis, which is still illegal under federal law.  However, the bill will have to overcome another hurdle as it awaits its fate in the Senate, where the members have repeatedly voted to shoot down the past legalization efforts. Senate Bill 577, which is a Senate initiative, brought in the house by three Republicans has similarities to the House proposal. This gives supporters some hope that the bill that seeks to decriminalize marijuana will go through the upper chamber, even though the outcome remains uncertain.

Besides, the House Bill vote came after one of the backers, Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque altered the language of the original legislation considerably and introduced it as a substitute.

 Some of the adjustments made on the original legislation before tabling the bill in the House include; residents would be allowed to possess up to one ounce of marijuana rather than two ounces as proposed earlier. In addition, the provision of allowing New Mexicans to grow cannabis on private that was on the original bill was also struck for fear that some individuals would venture into a “black market”.

Besides, the new bill also provides that any resident who purchased recreational marijuana from a state-licensed store would be required to produce the receipt or risk facing criminal charges. The proposal was framed by the House democrats in support of the bill as measure to prevent crime, arguing that it would keep criminal cartels and illegal dealers out of the business.

“Prohibition has failed to work,” said Rep. Antonio Maestas, D-Albuquerque who is one of the sponsors of the bill.

Republicans opposed to the measure argued that the proposal would lead to more accidents involving drivers that test positive for marijuana, which could be a serious thing for a state that has high rate of severe drunken-driving crashes.

According to a report from a study carried out in February 2019 by the University of Minnesota, officials in the first two states to decriminalize marijuana, Colorado and Washington were struggling with growing problems on driving under-the-influence cases as well as cannabis use by under-age residents. The study sought to determine the effects of marijuana in the two states that were the first to decriminalize marijuana in 2012.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data conducted a study last October that revealed a 6% increase in vehicular crashes in four states where marijuana has been decriminalized, including Washington, Nevada, Colorado and Oregon.

“The measure to legalize marijuana proposes a four percent excise tax, which would help to raise tens of millions in revenue for the state,” explained Martinez. Moreover, the amount collected from the proceedings would be used  many purposes such as research as well as help officials detect and combat DUIs related to cannabis use.  

The substitute bill would give permission to both counties and municipalities to impose additional local taxes just like the original bill. However, the original bill proposed a nine percent excise tax.

In addition, House Bill stands against the use of marijuana in the workplace as it provides that employers adopt a zero-tolerance policy.

“Decriminalization of marijuana is unstoppable,” asserted Maestas.

Overall, the New Mexico Department of Health has revealed that about 67,500 residents have legal access to cannabis products and marijuana for medical use today. This one of major benefits of the state law, which was passed by the Legislature and later approved by the former governor, Bill Richardson in 2007. These include patients diagnosed with specified diseases and ailments such as chronic pain and HIV/AIDS.


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