New Mexico Bill Would Legalize Recreational Marijuana and Industrial Hemp, Block Federal Prohibition

SANTA FE, N.M. (Feb. 1, 2016) – A bill prefiled in the New Mexico House would legalize marijuana for recreational use and the production of industrial hemp. Passage would not only legalize marijuana and hemp in the Land of Enchantment, but would also take a big step toward blocking federal cannabis prohibition in practice in the state.

House Bill 89 (HB89) reads, in part:

"The purpose of the Cannabis Revenue and Freedom Act is:
A. to eliminate problems caused by the prohibition and uncontrolled manufacture, possession and delivery of marijuana within New Mexico;
B. to protect the peace, health, safety and welfare of the people of this state by prioritizing the state’s limited law enforcement resources in the most effective way;
C. to establish a comprehensive regulatory framework relating to marijuana;
D. to allow a person who is licensed by this state to legally manufacture and sell marijuana to a person who is twenty-one years of age or older, subject to the provisions of that act;
E. to provide a licensing and permitting system for industrial hemp and agricultural hemp seed production."

“We want to take control of cannabis out of the hands of drug cartels in Mexico who are using profits to rape and murder people and put profits in the hands of legitimate business people and the government,” Rep. Bill McCamley (D-Mesilla Park) said in a KOB4 report. He has introduced legalization measures during previous legislative sessions.

Under the provisions in HB89, individuals would be allowed to possess up to two ounces of smokable marijuana in their household and up to one ounce of smokable marijuana outside their household. Different restrictions apply to marijuana that is processed in different forms. Individuals could legally grow up to six plants per person under the bill. A “cannabis control board” would be established to govern marijuana-related commerce in the state and determine specific taxes and regulations.

“Marijuana prohibition in New Mexico has clearly failed. It hasn’t reduced use and instead has resulted in the criminalization of people, gross racial disparities, and enormous fiscal waste,” State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance in New Mexico, Emily Kaltenbach said in a press release.

In addition, HB89 would legalize industrial hemp for distribution and production as well. The New Mexico department of agriculture would create a licensing system for hemp growers in the state. The legislation would not require federal approval before commercial hemp production is permitted in the state; thus, it would stop federal prohibition on the crop.

If HB89 is successful during next year’s legislative session, New Mexico would be the first state to legalize recreational marijuana through the state legislature rather than the ballot initiative process. Despite the federal prohibition on marijuana, measures such as HB89 remain perfectly lawful, and the feds can do little if anything to stop them in practice.

LEGALITY

The federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970 prohibits all of this behavior. Of course, the federal government lacks any legal 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.

Legalization of marijuana in New Mexico would remove a huge layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition will remain on the books.

FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By mostly ending state prohibition, New Mexico essentially sweeps 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.

MARIJUANA

New Mexico could join a growing number simply ignoring federal prohibition and blocking it in practice. Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska have already legalized recreational cannabis with California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts set to join them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization were passed in those states earlier this month.

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 any more.

“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. 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,” policy analyst Michael Boldin said.

HEMP

Early in 2014, President Barack Obama signed a new farm bill into law, which included a provision allowing a handful of states to begin limited research programs growing hemp. The “hemp amendment”

"…allows State Agriculture Departments, colleges and universities to grow hemp, defined as the non-drug oil-seed and fiber varieties of Cannabis, for academic or agricultural research purposes, but it applies only to states where industrial hemp farming is already legal under state law."

In short, current federal law authorizes the farming of hemp – by research institutions only, for research only. Farming for commercial purposes by individuals and businesses remains prohibited. HB89 ignores federal prohibition and authorizes commercial farming and production anyway.

By rejecting any need for federal approval, HB89 sets the stage to thwart the federal hemp ban in practice. New Mexico could join with other states – including Colorado, Oregon, Maine, Massachusetts, California and Vermont – that have simply ignored federal prohibition and legalized industrial hemp production within their state borders.

While prospective hemp growers would still have to take federal law into consideration, by eliminating the state requirement for federal permission, the New Mexico law would clear away a major obstacle to widespread commercial hemp farming within the borders of the state.

Farmers in SE Colorado started harvesting the plant in 2013, and farmers in Vermont began harvesting in 2014, effectively blocking federal restrictions on such agricultural activities. On Feb. 2, 2105, the Oregon hemp industry officially opened for business and one week later, the first license went to a small non-profit group. As more people engage in hemp production and the market grows within these states, more people will become emboldened creating an exponential wave, ultimately stopping the federal ban in effect.

WHAT’S NEXT?

HB89 will need to be officially introduced and pass its committee assignment before it can be considered by the full House.