After years of defeats, the cannabis crowd should finally get its way in New Mexico.

Voters purged most conservative Democrats from the state Legislature in this year’s primary election. Their departure means legalization of recreational marijuana has its best chance ever of passing.

A marijuana bill probably will be approved during the 60-day legislative session that starts Jan. 19. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham would be sure to sign the measure into law.

Lujan Grisham wanted recreational marijuana to be legalized during this year’s 30-day session. The governor put the marijuana measure on the legislative agenda, even though her critics said the debate might consume many hours that should be devoted to the state budget.

It didn’t. Even with the governor’s support and a Democrat-controlled Legislature, the marijuana bill died in the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 6-4 vote. Two Democrats sided with four Republicans to kill it.

Lujan Grisham over the weekend renewed her campaign for legalization of recreational cannabis in an email to various constituents. She referred to the proposal’s defeat this year, and lobbed criticism at lawmakers for inaction.

“Unfortunately, the Legislature couldn’t come to an agreement, even though the economic impact would have created thousands of new jobs and sustainable state revenue sources to invest in New Mexico’s future,” the governor wrote.

She makes marijuana sound like a panacea for government and taxpayers alike. A deeper look shows the financial benefits of legalizing marijuana are always overstated by advocates.

They brag about tax revenue but ignore black markets that still exist in states where marijuana is legal.

Police have to contend with dealers who sell marijuana without a tax markup and pocket the profits. Blunting illegal sales is a headache for many states and a nightmare for California, which has the largest marijuana crop and the most customers.

There are also occasional, harrowing cases of small children needing emergency medical treatment after ingesting their parents’ marijuana.

Even with these drawbacks, the country’s opposition to marijuana has lessened each year.

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational cannabis, usually by public referendum. It’s harder to get an issue on the ballot in New Mexico than in many other states. Knowing this, Lujan Grisham and liberal legislators hope to legalize the drug by statute.

They have watched much more conservative states — Arizona, Montana and South Dakota — approve marijuana use for adults. Many Democratic lawmakers say New Mexico loses money each day it delays in joining the movement.

It’s inevitable that recreational marijuana will be legal in most of the country. Where it’s not, medical marijuana is often available.

A total of 101,770 residents of New Mexico had medical marijuana licenses as of last month, according to the state Department of Health. That’s about 5 percent of the state’s population.

Rather than licensing thousands more people who claim they have post-traumatic stress disorder, the state might as well legalize recreational marijuana for people 21 and older.

In her push for such a law, Lujan Grisham also makes much of how the change would create a fairer justice system.

“I’ve listened to deep concerns for people whose lives have been turned upside down by the inequitable effects of minor marijuana convictions along with an undeniable call for increased public safety, especially for New Mexico children,” Lujan Grisham wrote to constituents.

The New Mexico Legislature in 2019 decriminalized possession of up to half an ounce of marijuana, and Lujan Grisham signed the bill into law. It’s now a civil offense that carries a fine of $50.

For lawmakers, the greatest challenge of legalizing recreational cannabis would be the related job of establishing a thorough system to expunge criminal convictions of people who possessed small amounts of the drug.

Republicans say it’s a myth that this step would wipe clean the sheets of many convicted criminals who say they have trouble landing a job.

Former Gov. Susana Martinez, a longtime prosecutor and vigorous opponent of marijuana legalization, often said it was rare to find someone who was incarcerated simply for possession of a few joints of marijuana. Most often, she said, people with marijuana convictions who were in jail had committed burglaries, car break-ins or other property crimes.

With Lujan Grisham having replaced Martinez, and almost all the Democrats who opposed marijuana legalization ousted from the Legislature, the next bill should be on a fast track to approval.

It will be ballyhooed as an economic triumph for a state suffering through the coronavirus pandemic.

Any worries about sky-high motorists, bloated revenue projections and black-market dealers won’t get nearly as much attention.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

(23) comments

B. Rosen

I really think that little will change with the legalization of recreational marijuana. Though it could generate some tax revenues for the state’s coffers. I think some folks are going to smoke pot whether it is legal or not, and at least we won’t be wasting limited law enforcement resources chasing pot heads around anymore. I don’t drink or take drugs myself, but I don’t think the folks who do enjoy those things need to be treated as felons.

Andrew Lucero

You know, if this was any other state, I would probably support legalization. But this is New Mexico. We can’t even drink responsibly here. I fear that adding marijuana to the mix will only create more problems and end up costing the tax payers more money in the long run. I also don’t believe legalization will be the financial windfall that legislators think it will be. The fact is, the state will only see a pittance of tax revenue from this. The lions share will still go to the black market/Cartels. Since possession will no longer be an issue, drug dealers can always undercut the price to gain market share. The state can’t. So, the free market will ultimately win that battle. The only winners here are the dealers and those who partake.

Khal Spencer

Donato raises a good point. How will the state regulate the market and prevent bootleg growers from undercutting the State Pot Shop? If taxes are levied at a high enough level on officially grown pot, then an illicit market will invite itself in.

Also, let us not forget that Eric Garner met his death at the hands of a NYC cop's choke hold for the capital offense of selling bootleg cigarettes. Again, what is going on north of the border regarding who is growing and who is selling pot?

Again, I prefer legalization to the current prohibition and think the War on Drugs should end. But methinks the devils are in the details that proponents and opponents don't want you to hear.

Donato Velasco

yes its an open free market so everyone can start a farm and join in on the new economy ..

Russell Scanlon

IT’s funny how people can be so selective about what “freedom” means. Carrying loaded automatic weapons around with a bad attitude is “freedom”. Telling women how to deal with their pregnancy is “protecting the rights of the unborn”. Having to pay exorbitant medical bills because you don’t want the US government providing universal healthcare is “freedom”. But making weed legal is somehow an existential threat to our nation. The search for wisdom is (or should be) a search for moral and intellectual consistency rather than a building bigger walls around our prejudices and fears. . . Unfortunately it usually just ends up being about money, doesn’t it?

Khal Spencer

Semiauto, Russ. As far as the unborn, the Courts have tried to balance those rights against a woman's right to be left alone; even Peter Singer thinks abortion rights are on shaky philosophical grounds. And paying other people's medical bills means my pocket gets picked, so perhaps if I do so, I want to regulate everyone's ice cream and red meat consumption and make cardiovascular exercise mandatory.

These things are admittedly complicated when you make Government the owner of all processes. But making cannabis a Sched I drug is admittedly insane too, getting back to that issue and away from all the red herrings.

Russell Scanlon

I agree that abortion is a profoundly difficult issue and a strong issue for Conservatives. It is also incredibly personal and in most cases involves an almost impossible choice for a women, the father, and the physician (in the case of medical or fetus issues). So why is the government involved at all? Conservatives are always railing against “intrusive, Big Brother” government. Can you imagine a more personal private issue than a women or couple deciding to end a pregnancy? And your assumption that “your pocket is picked” by Universal healthcare is just absurd to me, as well as your logical kamikaze dive that red meat and ice cream will be regulated by “Big Gov” Many, if not most, modern “civilized” countries have “socialized” medicine. The only people who don’t want it are insurance companies and pharmaceutical manufacturers—as well as millions of misinformed listeners of Sean Hannity.

rodney carswell

[thumbup]

Khal Spencer

The government is involved with abortion because at some point the unborn fetus acquires human rights, so a family's privacy is no longer sacrosanct. I think that is what Roe v Wade was getting at. Yes, it is a profoundly difficult issue and it is also a difficult issue for Catholics and other people of faith and philosophers, not just the Right.

All sarcasm aside about red meat and ice cream, health care costs will rise unless people have good health habits. Especially as we are an aging nation. If we are to have socialized medicine, I want to see some major emphasis on preventive medicine rather than treating the results of bad habits in the ER or OR.

I was on the Board of Directors of a smallish union in Hawai'i, the UHPA. We had pretty low group rates for our BC/BS until a really bad two years when we suddenly had a spate of people in the hospital for major health issues like heart attacks and major surgeries. Our rates suddenly went way up. So that happened to a union. There is no difference, other than in scale, in what would happen if Uncle Sam is a single provider. What we would pay through taxes would be a direct result of how healthy we are as a nation.

As far as Big Gubbmint wanting to regulate red meat and ice cream? No, it wasn't Sean Hannity's imagination. It was liberal mayors and councilors who wanted to pass sugar taxes here and in NYC to cut down on soft drink consumption for we knuckle draggers who can't properly regulate our diets. If Uncle is the single provider, I don't think it would be a massive stretch to think Uncle would want to cut his costs.

Russell Scanlon

Khal—what you just described regarding the situation in Hawaii is why health care must be universal and mandatory for EVERY citizen. That’s how insurance works—the healthy and the unhealthy balance each other out. It will never happen long as Republicans control the Senate. . . Still waiting for that mythical GOP healthcare bill.

Khal Spencer

I don't disagree, Russell. That said I do think universal health care has to start with good preventive medicine and behavioral change. One cannot take a pill for bad health choices!

Khal Spencer

I would like to see an honest cost-benefit analysis by someone not pushing for or opposing the legalization of Rio Arriba Ditch Weed. The idea that this will magically grow money and jobs on trees is probably a major exaggeration as legalization does little more than encourage people to engage in another vice. But half a century of pot prohibition and the War on Drugs has been a miserable failure as well, just as alcohol prohibition was an expensive and violent flop in the early twentieth century.

One thing that Milan left out of the conversation is that barring a change in Federal law cannabis, for better or worse, is still an illegal Schedule I drug at the Federal level. With many military bases and two national labs propping up the state economy in a BIG way, the last thing we need to do is encourage labbies, soldiers, or employees of military contractors to toke up and then get fired or sent to the CO's office for a disciplinary hearing. Have any of our newly minted Progressive legislators thought of that? For example, this area depends heavily on the paychecks of more than ten thousand well compensated LANL employees. Any of them hit the jackpot on the drug test and they will be looking for work elsewhere, undoubtedly in a lower paying occupation.

"Fries with that, sir?" doesn't pay the bills.

I can't find anything more recent than 2018 on Colorado, but here is one source.

https://www.kansascityfed.org/publications/research/rme/articles/2018/rme-1q-2018

There is also a 2016 report online from the CO legislature with a bunch of recommendations.

I suspect that our legislature will approve and Grishy sign a law legalizing pot. Then we see what happens. I'm ambivalent about the whole thing but generally think the War on Drugs is a disaster and it sure has not solved the drug problems in Northern New Mexico. We need to think outside the box.

Khal Spencer

p.s. In case anyone missed it, the fact that Maui Wowee is a Federal prohibited substance means all those folks in New Mexico who get their paychecks from Uncle Sam will not be customers--or will not be getting a paycheck from Uncle Sam for long. Wonder if anyone factored that into the cost-bennie analysis.

Richard Irell

I lived and worked in Colorado when recreational marijuana was legalized. My employer, Lockheed Martin, was a federal contractor. A company wide email was sent telling us that we were still required to maintain a drug free workplace. I am sure many ignored this but there were certainly no big problems. Colorado is also home to Ft Carson, the Air Force Academy, and other military bases, as well as ICBMs out of Warren AFB in Cheyenne. Again, there were no serious issues.

Recreational pot is refreshingly civilized. Instead of having to interact with dubious characters, purchases are made in a safe & secure manner. I stopped smoking pot for many years because of that reason.

Yes, people abuse pot. But most users are not abusers. Getting a little high on Friday night should not be a crime. And the abusers don’t give a fat’s you know what about the law.

Khal Spencer

Hi Richard. If someone is not working, either directly or indirectly for the Feds, they should take advantage of state legalization if they so desire. But with so many in NM dependent on a check directly from the Feds or from a Federal contractor, that has to take a chunk out of the customer base.

My understanding is that cannabis tracers stay in the body for a long time, so unlike an alcohol test, you can ring the pot-meter on a drug test long after you have gotten high and come down again. Folks subject to drug testing need to know that.

On balance, I favor legalization on a civil liberties and libertarian basis. If you are not harming me then why should I care if you light up a joint rather than kick back with a glass of Jack Daniels? Just please, folks, don't toke and drive.

Donato Velasco

just like all drunks are not alcoholics

Richard Reinders

Everything I have read about Colorado said they are losing money on this issue because of increased black market presence and social issues. Downtown is a homeless camp now. What is better about that.

Mike Johnson

Agreed Khal, and my personal experience and those of my friends with smoking dope, in college, was very negative. Not because of the laws and police. Some of my friends and roommates actually thought smoking dope made them smarter and better able to pass courses, enhancing their skills at doing homework and taking tests....WRONG. Most of them flunked out by junior year, and many went on to fail in life and died young, under 60. I can't say it was because of smoking dope, but the coincidence of their college failures, which continued through their lives (yes, they continued smoking dope) exists. And of course the paltry net tax money gained by preying on these weak headed people will not be positive enough to justify the damages to society. But left wing politicians can never have enough tax money, so we are powerless to stop this disaster. BTW, all my friends in Colorado say it was a big mistake there, maybe NM will learn after the results are clear, maybe not.....

Miguel Perez

Gov. Grisham please don’t do this. Our state has enough problems with alcohol and drug use and abuse related crime!!

Carlos Montoya

If the state is truly honest and sincere in increasing the funds for the state then it should be the one that sells the product!

Dukie and private sellers should not be allowed to make all the profit from these sales it should be the state I say again;

Richard Reinders

Regardless who sells it you have the same problems that come from the consumption.

Richard Reinders

Get ready for a more robust black market and millions if not billions spent on the social issues and law enforcement that arise from this, Colorado should be the model to look at it spends far more than what they take in tax's for the extra law enforcement and the increased homelessness, mental issues not to count the DWI's and so on. California here we come.

Stefanie Beninato

Don't you mean Colorado here we come? Why the constant put down of CA? Just another source of divisive bias out there.

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