A bid to make marijuana legal will begin as the New Mexico Legislature opens this week.
State Joint Resolution 10 would amend the state constitution to make the sale, consumption and growth of pot legal, said Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, who sponsored the proposal.
“It has been clear to me for at least 10 years that the war on drugs is an utter failure,” he said. “It’s worse than ineffective — it’s been hurting people. A lot of lives and a lot of families have been torn up unnecessarily.”
Legalizing marijuana would not be as simple as passing this proposal, he said. It would be a three-step process. First, this proposal would have to pass the House and Senate with an absolute majority. If the bill passes with 22 or more votes in the Senate and 36 or more votes in the House, the constitutional amendment would be on the ballot for the 2014 election in November.
Next, the proposal would go to New Mexico voters. If voters clear the amendment, the laws, restrictions, and taxes would be decided during the 2015 state legislature session.
That means that marijuana would not be legal for two more years. But Ortiz y Pino said that, for New Mexico, that can be a good thing.
“Colorado and Washington will have had two years of experience we could use to guide our own decision making,” he said. “The thought is, if they’re making mistakes, we can avoid them and if they’re having good success with something we can copy it. So I think the timing is right.”
In an interview with KRQE, Governor Susana Martinez said she opposes the bill and thinks that the decision should be made by the legislators, not voters.
“I don’t believe it should pass through the constitution. It should go through the legislative process instead and the legislators decide whether or not that should … become law or not,” Martinez said.
Ortiz y Pino said this should be something for voters to decide because it is the people of New Mexico who are, even now, smoking marijuana.
“Public attitudes have shifted so radically on this that I think there’s a really good chance it would pass,” he said.
Organizations both locally and nationally have given support to the amendment, including the conservative Rio Grande Foundation, which supports criminal reform measures as a way to make New Mexico safer and financially stable.
The nonprofit’s president Paul Gessing said legalizing marijuana could be important to the state in terms of crime and expendatures.
Incarcerating nonviolent offenders does little to make the state safer, but it costs taxpayers millions of dollars to police and adjudicate these crimes, he said.
“New Mexico is misallocating resources to deal with keeping people who are not harming anyone else in jail, and there are other people out roaming the streets who are dangerous,” he said.
According to a report published by the Cato Institute, New Mexico spent $674 million on prohibiting the use of marijuana in 2007.
The report, entitled “The Budgetary Impact of Ending Drug Prohibition” also states that New Mexico would be able to earn about $20 million through taxation on marijuana.
Martinez’s office said that this is just a ploy to improve the voter turnout of more liberal-minded voters.
“It’s disappointing that a politician is so driven by partisan politics that he would seek to amend the state’s constitution to legalize drugs for the stated purpose of trying to increase liberal turnout in an election,” said Enrique Knell, a spokesperson for Martinez, in an email to KRQE.
However, Ortiz y Pino said that improved voter turnout is exactly what Martinez is afraid of.
“I don’t know if (Martinez) is against marijuana itself, but if this thing is on the ballot, it makes the voter turnout go up — 25-40,000 more people would vote who otherwise wouldn’t,” he said.
“Almost all of those are people who don’t care who the governor is, who don’t care who the House of Representatives is, who would come out just for this issue and they would tend to be people, I would think, who would vote for Democrats — or whoever is running against her.”
More people will come out because people are already smoking marijuana even though it’s illegal, Ortiz y Pino said.
“Anybody who wants to smoke marijuana is smoking it,” he said. “This isn’t going to increase the number of people smoking it; it’s already on the streets. This isn’t going to add one new iota of marijuana consumption, but what it will do is change where the money is going.”
Ortiz y Pino said there are no plans yet as to how the state might spend the tax revenue if the amendment passes, but supporters of the bill have proposed using the money to lower tuition at public secondary education institutions, as a stream of revenue for the Lottery Scholarship and to bolster the Early Childhood Education Fund.