New Mexico Update: Ups and Downs for Johnson's Reform Package, State GOP in an Uproar 3/16/01

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As New Mexico's frenetic legislative session winds toward its end on Saturday, Gov. Gary Johnson's package of reform bills is meeting with some, although not complete, success. The fight over drug reform, meanwhile, is tearing the state Republican Party apart as New Mexico's leading Republicans attack the state party chairman for supporting Johnson's proposals.

The latest on the status of the reform bills:

  • Medical Marijuana -- passed both the House and the Senate in slightly differing versions. The only major difference is the "sunset clause" in the House version, which would require the legislature to re-approve the law after four years. Because the House bill barely passed, it is likely that the Senate will vote to adopt the House bill instead of trying to get the House to pass the Senate bill. The margin of victory in the Senate was 29-12.

  • The measure's proponents overcame hysterical opposition from the likes of Rep. Ron Godbey (R-Cedar Crest), who at one point asked, "Does this mean a patient using marijuana can go out and rape and pillage?" (The answer was "no.")
  • Voting rights reform -- Bills to restore the voting rights of felons upon completion of their sentences passed both houses and await Gov. Johnson's signature.
  • Asset forfeiture reform -- Moved through House committees, a floor vote is imminent.
  • Overdose prevention -- Passed in the Senate and House with slight differences. The House will do a voice vote on the Senate version today.
  • Marijuana decriminalization -- Still alive, as legislators look for compromise language with Gov. Johnson.
  • Sentencing reforms -- The habitual offender bill passed the House and will be voted on by the Senate today. The first and second time offender bill, under which such persons would receive probation and possible treatment instead of prison, also remains alive.
It is worth noting that at this late date, none of Johnson's package of bills is definitively dead, which is an indication of the rapid shift toward new approaches to drug policy in New Mexico and nationwide.

The battle over drug reform in New Mexico is also exposing fault lines within the state Republican Party, as social conservatives face off against more libertarian-leaning party members.

All three New Mexico Republicans in Congress -- Sen. Pete Domenici, Congressman Joe Skeen, and Congresswoman Heather Wilson -- have harshly attacked state Republican Party Chairman John Dendahl for his support of Johnson's package.

Domenici called for Dendahl to resign, and in a statement released last week, the Republican congressmembers said, "Mr. Dendahl has every right as a private citizen to express any view he wishes, no matter how inimical to the principles of the party he represents. However, expressing views that directly violate the wishes of the vast majority of those who elected him chairman and who have labored to have a president who opposes legalization of marijuana, reveals that John has simply left the Republican Party on this critical issue of moral values."

But a poll released last month suggests that Dendahl is more attuned to New Mexico voters than his critics. A survey by the Albuquerque firm Research & Polling, found that 60% of Republicans, 66% of Democrats, and 75% of independents supported marijuana decriminalization. New Mexicans approved of drug treatment over prison for first and second-time offenders by similar margins.

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Issue #177, 3/16/01 Dedication: Patrick Dorismond | Students Helping Students, HEA Update | Colombian Governors Come to Washington to Denounce Plan Colombia, DRCNet Interviews Tolima Governor Jaramillo | US District Court Overturns Mandatory Drug Tests in Texas School, Lockney Policy Was Nation's Broadest | Drug Reform Battle Heats Up in New York: Pataki Package Would Increase Marijuana Penalties, Democrats Offer Alternative Bills, Activists Don't Like Either Version | New Mexico Update: Ups and Downs for Johnson's Reform Package, State GOP in an Uproar | In Another Step on Path to Cannabis Decrim, Swiss Government Submits Proposed Law to Parliament | Hemispheric Parliamentarians Reject Debate on Drug Legalization | Uruguayan Leader Takes Legalization Views Online, Recommends Traffic | Narco News: Mexican Federal Police Chief Calls for Legalization, Bush Adds Another Half Billion to Colombia Fire | San Francisco Conference Looks at Women and the Drug War | Job Listing: Access Works! in Minneapolis | The Reformer's Calendar | Editorial: The Rule of Law
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