SANTA FE, N.M. (April 16, 2019) – Earlier this month, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed two bills into law that loosen state prohibitions on marijuana. These two laws will further nullify federal cannabis prohibition in effect within the borders of the Land of Enchantment.
Sen. Joseph Cervantes (D-Las Cruces) sponsored Senate Bill 323 (SB323). The new law decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under the new statute, possession of up to a half-ounce of cannabis will no longer be a criminal offense. Instead, it will be a petty misdemeanor with a fine of $50 for the first offense. The new law also decriminalizes marijuana paraphernalia possession.
Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) sponsored Senate Bill 406 (SB406). The new law expands New Mexico’s medical marijuana program in several ways. Under the new law, marijuana patients registered in other states will be able to participate in New Mexico’s program. It also allows medical cannabis use on school campuses under defined circumstances and extends the registration renewal period from one to three years. Finally, the new law will allow for licensed medical marijuana establishments to create “consumption areas,” subject to approval by the department of health.
Cannabis Now called the provision authorizing consumption areas a “most courageous move.” Similar provisions have been proposed in Colorado and California.
Both new laws go into effect on July 1.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Under the federal 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 cannabis 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.
Decriminalization of marijuana possession and the expansion of New Mexico’s medical cannabis program removes another lawyer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in the Land of Enchantment, but federal prohibition remains in effect.
FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-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. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
New Mexico joins 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 November 2016. In 2018, Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act. and Michigan passed a ballot measure legalizing cannabis for general use.
With 33 states including New Mexico allowing cannabis for medical use, 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.
Passage of SB323 and SB406 demonstrate another important strategic reality. Once a legalizes marijuana – even if only in a very limited way – it tends to eventually expand. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. These new laws represent a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.
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