At the Statehouse III: Marijuana Decrim Bill Dead in New Mexico, Other Drug Reform Measures Still Breathing 2/1/02

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New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson's six-pronged drug reform package for the New Mexico legislature's short 2002 session is down to five prongs as the House effectively killed the governor's marijuana decriminalization measure this week. Johnson is using the budgetary short session in a last effort to win passage of his comprehensive drug reform program before he leaves office at the end of his current term, but with budget issues still unresolved and legislators looking anxiously over their shoulders in an election year, the outlook for the package remains clouded.

The marijuana decrim measure would have removed criminal penalties for possession of up to an ounce for people 18 and older. The offense would have been treated like a traffic violation, with possible civil fines but no arrest. Under current New Mexico law, possession of up to an ounce is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $50 and 15 days in jail.

"I understand it's one of the more controversial bills of the package. It is very difficult to deal with in 30 days, particularly in an election year," former Gov. Toney Anaya told the Albuquerque Journal. Anaya is a lobbyist for the governor on drug reform issues, paid for by the Center for Policy Reform, a nonprofit group affiliated with what was until this week The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation. TLC-DPF announced earlier this week it had changed its name to Drug Policy Alliance.

Shayna Samuels, a spokesperson for the Center, told DRCNet she remained optimistic despite the defeat of the decrim bill. "We expected that a lot of the non-budget-related items would not get through," she said. "Drug reform is not necessarily one of their priorities. But we are focusing on the other five bills, and they are so far going through the committees as planned."

The remaining five bills are:

  • New Mexico Medical Marijuana Law, sponsored by Sen. Roman Maes (D-Santa Fe). This bill would create an exemption from state laws for possession and use of a reasonable supply of medical marijuana by patients or their caregivers. Patients must be suffering from certain diseases, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, and diseases with neuromuscular spasticity, and must be certified by the Department of Health. This bill got off to a rocky start when legislators rejected wording allowing patients to grow their own; instead, lawmakers reverted to the language of last year's bill, under which the state would be responsible for medical marijuana supplies.
  • Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform, sponsored by Sen. Manny Aragon (D-Albuquerque). This bill would require persons to be convicted prior to loss of property, a court order obtained before property seizure, and proof by clear and convincing evidence that the property is subject to forfeiture. Money seized under this bill would go to the state's general fund instead of to the law enforcement agency that made the seizure.
  • "Treatment Not Jail" Sentencing Reform, sponsored by Rep. Joe Thompson (R-Albuquerque). This bill would make first- and second-time drug possession offenses misdemeanors and require probationary sentences, with referrals to drug treatment when appropriate.
  • Habitual Offender Sentencing Reform, sponsored by Rep. Ken Martinez (D-Grants). Under current New Mexico law, judges must apply "habitual offender" sentencing enhancements if a prosecutor charges a defendant as a habitual offender. This bill would give judges discretion to lengthen sentences, but they would no longer be forced to do so.
  • State Waiver of Federal Ban on Benefits, sponsored by Rep. Joe Thompson (R-Albuquerque). This bill would allow New Mexico to join the 29 other states that have waivers allowing them to grant full federally-funded benefits to people who have completed their sentences for drug offenses.
The short legislative session ends on February 14. The drug reform community is waiting to see if it will get a Valentine's Day present from Santa Fe.

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Issue #222, 2/1/02 Editorial: On Freedom, Rights and Duties | At the Statehouse I: Former Delaware Governor Heads Effort to End Mandatory Minimums, Stop Prison Expansion | At the Statehouse II: Kentucky Legislator Offers Bill Allowing Police Access to Oxycontin Prescription Records | At the Statehouse III: Marijuana Decrim Bill Dead in New Mexico, Other Drug Reform Measures Still Breathing | At the Statehouse IV: Washington State Legislation Would Reduce Drug Penalties, Recognize Social Dealing | Radical Party Putting Manchester Police in a Pickle over Pot Cafe, Cops Unappreciative | Violent Dope Fiends a Myth: Another Study Finds Alcohol Most Linked to Violence | Bolivia Crisis Sharpens as Parliament Expels Cocalero Leader Evo Morales and US Funded Anti-Drug Forces Kill Again | Norwegian Commission Set to Call for Decriminalization of Drug Use, Possession | Swiss Hemp Activist Freed After International Outcry | White House Drug Office Pays $3.20 Million for Super Bowl Anti-Drug Ads Linking Drugs and Terrorism | Alerts: HEA Drug Provision, Bolivia, DEA Hemp Ban, Ecstasy, Mandatory Minimums, Medical Marijuana | Baltimore Job Opportunity with Injection Drug Use Study | The Reformer's Calendar
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