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Republican Gov. Gary Johnson's comprehensive drug reform package is advancing by fits and starts as the legislative clock ticks down in New Mexico. Seven bills calling for decriminalization of less than an ounce of marijuana, medical marijuana, sentencing and asset forfeiture reform, syringe accessibility, and limited liability for those who administer anti-opioid drugs to overdose victims have been introduced, but the package is unlikely to survive intact.

It now appears that not all parts of the package will pass, with the marijuana decrim bill most in danger, and the governor's sentencing reforms may be endangered by his libertarian reluctance to spend money for drug treatment programs.

Democrats had repeatedly warned the governor that he must put up the cash for treatment if he wanted to see his package have a chance of passing. Last month, Sen. Manny Aragon (D-Albuquerque) took to the Senate floor to tell Johnson to "put your money where your mouth is" and be "intellectually honest about a monetary figure on what it costs to treat heroin addicts."

Johnson did offer a $9.8 million appropriation for treatment, and that was good enough for Aragon, who cosponsored it along with more than a dozen other Democrats in both legislative houses. But last week, Sen. Cisco McSorley (D-Albuquerque), one of the package's key supporters, informed Johnson that he would not sponsor the legislation, saying the funding level was inadequate.

"I cannot sponsor your bill," McSorley wrote to the governor. "Your bill ensures the death of drug reform this year."

McSorley argued that the state should spend at least $40 million for treatment and prevention programs, and he was notably unimpressed by the fact, pointed out by Johnson, that his bill represented a 30% over previous funding levels.

"It doesn't matter if your numbers are a 33% increase; $9.8 million is just too small," McSorley wrote. "It is inadequate because it is not recurring and it is not built into the budget base."

McSorley isn't alone. House Speaker Ben Lujan (D-Santa Fe), and Senate President Pro Tem Richard Romero (D-Albuquerque), told the Albuquerque Journal the governor's proposal was not enough.

"If we're really serious about addressing the problem of drugs in New Mexico, we need to step forward and show that we really support the prospect of treatment and prevention by providing sufficient dollars to take care of it," Lujan said. "Cisco and I have been talking, and certainly we felt that $40 million would be something that would address those needs that are out there."

Romero told the Journal he did not know what the appropriate funding level was, but that he was going with his political ally. McSorley and one other Democrat had joined with all 18 Senate Republicans to oust Aragon from the President Pro Tem position earlier this session.

"I have to trust people like Cisco," he explained.

Supporters of the package remain cautiously optimistic, however. Former Democratic Gov. Tony Anaya, who is lobbying Democrats in the legislature and being paid by the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation, saw the move as just politics.

"This a political environment, and things ultimately get worked out," Anaya told the Journal. "The biggest issue that I've run into on the treatment is the funding source... That's just an issue the legislators and the governor may have to try to work out."

Anaya's Republican lobbying companion, Mickey Barnett, was soothing. "I'm just hopeful that when it finally comes time to vote that everybody will just vote their conscience," Barnett said. "And I think Cisco's for the bills, so I hope that when he actually votes, he won't vote no just because he doesn't agree on the funding bill."

David Goldstein, a research associate with Lindesmith's New Mexico office, told DRCNet he thought McSorley was just playing position politics. "The governor might be open to raising the funding appropriation for treatment," said Goldstein, "but the $40 million is just not feasible. Even the Democrats who genuinely want treatment wouldn't allocate that much money."

"It could be nothing more than bargaining," Goldstein said. "I don't think it will sabotage the bill, it's just politics."

Meanwhile, the governor's medical marijuana bill is sailing along despite still unresolved questions about how patients are supposed to obtain the stuff. Identical bills in the House and Senate easily won approval in their respective public affairs committees and now face votes in the judiciary committees.

The bill was publicly backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the New Mexico Medical Society, the state Department of Public Safety and the governor's taskforce. Lawmakers also heard powerful personal testimonials for patients whose lives have been eased by medical marijuana. "In my judgement, this is not a law enforcement issue before you today," Department of Public Safety Secretary Nicholas Baker told the committees.

The marijuana decriminalization push is not faring nearly as well. Gov. Johnson's legislative liason, Dave Miller, told the Santa Fe New Mexican last week that decrim was "dead in the water," before later amending his remarks to say, "The fight goes on. Decriminalization is alive, though it may not be well."

The set of sentencing reform measures also appeared headed for a tough fight. "Sentencing reforms are very controversial," Lindesmith's Goldstein told DRCNet. "It's hard to say which will pass."

Goldstein and the lobbyists are optimistic about medical marijuana, asset forfeiture reform (which has already won committee approval), and the bill allowing pharmacists to sell clean needles to drug users. They also expect the anti-opioid overdose measure to pass.

Things will have to happen fast if they happen at all; the session ends next month. However things come out in the legislature, though, the Lindesmith Center will be maintaining a presence.

"We're not going anywhere just yet," Goldstein told DRCNet. "We'll be dealing with implementing the bills that do get passed."

(The governor's package is available online at http://governor.state.nm.us/drug_policy/reform_proposal.htm -- and see http://www.drcnet.org/wol/170.html#strangedays and http://www.drcnet.org/wol/168.html#newmexico for earlier DRCNet coverage of the New Mexico effort.)

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