SANTA FE, N.M. (Jan. 31, 2020) – On Wednesday, a New Mexico Senate committee passed a bill to legalize marijuana for general use in the state despite federal prohibition.

A coalition of three Democrats introduced Senate Bill 115 (SB115) on Jan. 21. The legislation would enact a comprehensive plan for regulation and licensing of commercial cannabis production and distribution. It would legalize the sale and possession of up to two ounces of marijuana flowers or 16 grams of extract by persons age 21 or older. Under the proposed law, unrestricted commercial sales would begin January 1, 2022, but existing medical cannabis licenses could begin selling to other non-medical consumers beginning January 1, 2021,

On Jan. 29, the Senate Public Affairs Committee passed SB115 by a 4-3 margin.


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.

Despite federal prohibition, New Mexico legalized medical marijuana in 2007 and expanded the program last year.

Legalization of recreational marijuana would remove yet another layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in the Land of Enchantment, but federal prohibition would remain in effect. This is significant because 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.


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. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019.

With 33 states including 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.

The push to legalize recreational marijuana in New Mexico underscores another important strategic reality. Once a state 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.


SB115 now moves to the Senate Judiciary Committee where it must pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.

Mike Maharrey