Opportunity Lost: New Mexico Rejects Bill to Legalize Marijuana

SANTA FE, New Mexico (Feb. 26, 2016) – The New Mexico Senate killed an important measure to legalize marijuana this week, squandering an opportunity to thwart federal prohibition in effect. Instead, New Mexico will help maintain the heinous status quo of the Drug War.

Senate Joint Resolution 5 (SJR5) was introduced on Jan. 19 by Sen. Gerald Ortiz Y Pino (D-Albuquerque) to legalize marijuana for recreational use, and would have taxed and regulated the plant in a similar manner as alcohol by the state. However, SJR5 effectively died on Feb. 14 after the Senate rejected the bill in a 17-24 vote, squandering another chance for meaningful cannabis reform for the Land of Enchantment.

Unfortunately, the situation in New Mexico is not an outlier. It is emblematic for how state legislatures have treated the issue of marijuana legalization across the country. Although state legislatures legalized marijuana for medicinal use or decriminalized simple marijuana possession, none have had the courage to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Instead, fully-legal marijuana has come because of the popular vote, which has circumvented the legislatures and won huge victories in spite of their inaction.

Even though it is an issue that has spiked 50 percent in virtually every opinion poll, legislators are still reticent to act. However, the 17 Senators who did the right thing deserved to be lauded. It was not very long ago that the notion would have been unthinkable for 17 legislators to vote affirmatively on marijuana legalization in any state in the union. This is real progress that is being made, and we shouldn’t lose focus of how far we have come even in the midst of this setback.

On the other hand, New Mexico residents should also take note of the 24 folks who chose to keep criminal justice resources aimed at marijuana smokers rather than murderers, rapists and other violent criminals. They should remember this dereliction of duty the next time they are at the polls. Only once legislators know that electoral retribution is in order will they do the right thing on the marijuana issue and other key freedom issues.

Until that message is decisively sent, legislatures will likely continue to be lapped by the public at large. Anti-marijuana legislators are making themselves look irrelevant and out-of-touch at their own peril. Reform is going to come sooner or later, whether it is embraced by public officials or they are dragged kicking and screaming to the inevitable. This genie is not going back into the bottle. The drug war is in its death throes, and it’s just a matter of time before stubborn legislators catch up with that fact.