SANTA FE, N.M. (Feb. 6, 2018) – Last week, a New Mexico Senate committee narrowly passed a bill that would give voters the opportunity to amend the state constitution and legalize marijuana. Passage would set the foundation to nullify the unconstitutional federal prohibition on cannabis in practice.
Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) introduced Senate Joint Resolution 4 (SJR4) on Jan. 16. Passage of the legislation would initiate a voter referendum to amend the New Mexico state constitution, inserting language that authorizes the legalization of marijuana. Under the proposed change, the state would tax and regulate marijuana similar to alcohol.
Passage of SJR4 by a two-thirds majority in both legislative chambers would place the amendment language before voters to decide during a future election.
SJR4 would amend Article 20 of the New Mexico state constitution to read as follows:
“Possession and personal use of marijuana shall be lawful by persons twenty-one years of age or older only if the legislature provides by law for:
A. the production, processing, transportation, sale, taxation and acceptable quantities and places of use of marijuana to protect public health and safety; and
B. any state revenue generated from the taxation of marijuana to be distributed to the general fund.”
“It basically reads as Colorado’s reads, and it is very simple, which is the state shall not prohibit the growing, possession and distribution of marijuana in New Mexico,” Sen. Ortiz y Pino said after introducing the identical measure last year.
On Feb. 2, SJR4 passed the Senate Rules Committee by a 4-3 vote.
A bill filed in the New Mexico House would legalize marijuana through an act of the legislature, but it’s extremely important that the issue goes before the voters. Gov. Susana Martinez is an outspoken opponent of marijuana legalization and would likely veto any legislative measure. Last year, the governor vetoed a bill to improve the state’s medical marijuana law and a bill to legalize hemp research in the state. Passage of SJR4 would bypass the governor and put the issue directly before the people of New Mexico.
Despite the federal prohibition on marijuana, measures such as SJR4 remain perfectly constitutional, and the feds can do little if anything to stop them in practice.
Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Medical marijuana is legal in New Mexico. Blanket legalization of cannabis would remove another layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition would remain on the books.
FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By curtailing state prohibition, New Mexico could sweep away much of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly annual budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution either. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
New Mexico could join a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and nullifying it in practice. Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in 2016.
With more than two-dozen states allowing cannabis for medical use as well, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
SJR4 will now move to the Senate Judiciary Committee where it will need to pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.
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