SANTA FE, N.M. (March 1, 2021) – Last Friday, the New Mexico House passed a bill that would legalize marijuana for adult use in the state despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.
A coalition of three Democrats introduced House Bill 12 (HB12) on Feb.2. Under the proposed law, adults over 21 would be legally allowed to purchase at least 2 ounces of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants for personal use. The legislation would also create a tax and regulatory structure for the commercial cultivation and sale of marijuana. HB12 includes provisions for the automatic expungement of the records of people convinced for possession of up two 2 ounces of marijuana.
On Feb. 26, the House passed HB12 by a 39-31 vote.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
While marijuana has become more widely accepted across the U.S., the federal government still claims it is illegal. As we’ve seen with immigration sanctuary cities, when state and local enforcement ends, the federal government has an extremely difficult time enforcing their acts.
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.
New Mexico legalized medical marijuana in 2007 and expanded the program in 2019. That same year, New Mexico decriminalized marijuana possession. The legalization of adult-use marijuana would remove yet another layer of laws even while federal prohibition remains in place.
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 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 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. South Dakota, New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election and Mississippi legalized medicinal cannabis.
With 36 states now allowing cannabis for medical use, and 15 legalizing for recreational adult-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 marijuana in New Mexico underscores another important strategic reality. Once a state removes restrictions on 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.
HB12 now moves to the Senate. At the time of this report, it had not received a committee assignment. Once it is referred to a committee, it must pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.
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