New Mexico: State Senate Passes Historic Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

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In a Bi-partisan Vote the New Mexico’s State Senate Passes Historic Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

SB 383 Reduces Penalties for Possession of Small Amounts of Marijuana and Drug Paraphernalia

Over the weekend, making history, the New Mexico’s State Senate voted (21-20) to pass Senate Bill 383, reducing penalties for adults who possess small amounts of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. The final vote was bi-partisan with Republican Senator Lisa A. Torraco and Republican Senator John C. Ryan voting in support. Five of 19 Democrats (Munoz, Padilla, Clemente Sanchez, Papen, and Smith) voted against the bill . The bill now advances to the House.

The proposed legislation makes one ounce or less of marijuana and possession of any drug paraphernalia a penalty assessment with a fine of $50; a penalty assessment is not considered a criminal conviction. The bill also takes away the potential for jail time for any amount up to 8 ounces.

Currently, in New Mexico, possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana is a petty misdemeanor crime with fines and possible jail time; over 1 ounce and up to 8 ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor crime with large fines or possible jail time of up to a year. Similar legislation passed the House of Representatives in 2013 with bipartisan support.

“I am troubled by the millions of taxpayer dollars that are spent every year on processing thousands of low level marijuana misdemeanor offenders — dollars that might be better spent by hard-pressed law enforcement agencies on more pressing public safety needs,” said Emily Kaltenbach, the New Mexico state director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “Even more troubling is that young people and people of color are disproportionally arrested for marijuana arrests in our state.

"If ever there was a bill that advanced the smart on crime agenda and supported our New Mexican families, this is it,” Kaltenbach said.

New Mexicans agree it is time to change the way we are policing marijuana in the state. In November, voters in Santa Fe County and Bernalillo County voiced overwhelming support for marijuana decriminalization, with Bernalillo County voting 60 percent and Santa Fe County voting 73 percent in favor of statewide decriminalization.

The state’s first vote on marijuana policy was not merely local; more than 40 percent of state voters weighed in and a clear majority of those casting ballots sent the message that voters are ready to end criminal penalties for marijuana possession. A 2013 poll by Sanderoff showed 57 percent of New Mexicans in favor of decriminalization.

To date, 18 states and the District of Columbia have reduced penalties for marijuana possession. As of today, more than 120 million people, or one-third of the U.S. population live in jurisdictions where marijuana has been essentially decriminalized, meaning there is no jail time associated with possession.

The city of Santa Fe decriminalized small amounts of marijuana in 2014.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is an organization of people who believe the War On Drugs is doing more harm than good. DPA fights for drug policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights.