New Mexico looks at possibility of legalizing recreational marijuana

A bill allowing the recreational use of marijuana in New Mexico has a high chance of making it to the Roundhouse in the upcoming legislative session– and this time, it could pass.

Democrats took over the governor’s seat and increased their majority in the New Mexico House 0f Representatives after November’s midterm elections. This effectively pushed New Mexico into a Democratic Trifecta. (While the New Mexico Senate was not eligible for elections this year, it already had a Democratic majority.)

The legalization of marijuana is not typically seen as a bipartisan issue, but one favored by the Democratic party. New Mexico could become the 11th state to legalize the drug if the legislation passes in the session beginning in January. Michigan became the 10th state in November.

Rep. Angelica Rubio said that she supports the legalization of recreational marijuana in New Mexico, but also said she is not certain that the bill will pass in 2019.

Rep. Angelica Rubio (D) said she believes marijuana will eventually be legalized in New Mexico. “The question certainly is, when?” she said.

“I certainly believe that recreational marijuana will become legal in New Mexico,” Rubio said. “The question certainly is, when?”

Rep. Javier Martinez, an Albuquerque Democrat, and Rep. Bill McCamley a Las Cruces Democrat, proposed legislation to legalize recreational marijuana during the 2017 legislative session. This was following several attempts by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, an Albuquerque Democrat, to pass a bill in the Senate.

While Rubio said she believes Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham is in support of looking at the issue, she is not sure that a proposed bill will make it through the New Mexico Senate, despite the Democratic majority there.

“We have gained some seats, (to where) we can potentially pass it out of the House,” Rubio said. “But the question is always the Senate.”

Rubio said that historically Senate moderates have not been supportive of the proposal, but thinks there’s a possibility under the leadership of Gov.-elect Lujan Grisham.

“Maybe under a new administration that is considering the option that might be a possibility,” Rubio said. “But, I personally don’t think it will happen during the upcoming legislative session.”

New Mexico Senate Majority Whip, Mimi Stewart, also said she thinks the bill would have a hard time passing through.

“I think it has a good possibility,” Stewart said. “The votes are certainly there in the House. I’m not sure in the Senate. There is a number of people concerned about it in the Senate.”

She said that she is certain the Senate will take the vote, but whether it will pass is up in the air.

Sen. Mimi Stewart (D) is the Majority Whip for this upcoming New Mexico legislative session. “The votes are certainly there in the House.” she said on whether marijuana would be legalized recreationally. “I’m not sure in the Senate.”

Stewart’s main concern, if marijuana is legalized for recreational use, is keeping the drug away from children and young adults.

“I think we could learn from these other states that have managed it well,” Stewart said. “If our citizenry wants it, I think it could be a good thing for economic development in New Mexico.”

Another related issue is that while the legalization of marijuana could be passed as state law, it is still illegal at the federal level through the Federal Controlled Substances Act.  

University of New Mexico Political Science Professor, Peter Kierst, said that federal law is supreme over state law, according the the Constitution of the United States.

“The question that I am aware of and that interests me is the constitutional one,” Kierst said.  “How can a state make legal what the federal government has said is illegal?”

He said that drug enforcement had, in the past, been a shared endeavor between the federal and state governments, with each enforcing different types of drug violations. A state that legalizes marijuana is effectively stepping back from this role, allowing the federal government to step in and enforce these laws if they chose.

The federal government has a choice to have federal prosecutors come in and begin enforcing the federal law, and Congress could also put monetary pressure on the states to repeal the law. However, the executive and legislative branches have chosen to do nothing, Kierst said.

Peter Kierst is a Political Science Professor specializing in the Constitution. He said that it is against the terms of the Constitution for states to be legalizing marijuana.

“It’s weird,” he said. “It’s not the way federalism is typically thought of as working, but it is what we are doing.”

Kierst said he does not see any sign of the Trump administration reacting to these laws.

“I wondered whether or not, when this administration came in, being more quote unquote conservative and harder on drugs, whether the new president and new attorney general… (would do something).” Kierst said. “But they didn’t.”

Despite this, 60 percent of New Mexicans support the legalization of recreational marijuana at the state level according to an Albuquerque Journal Poll conducted in Sept. 2018.

New Mexico legalized the use of medicinal marijuana in 2007 under Democratic Governor Bill Richardson.  It was the 12th state to approve medical marijuana.

Shayla Cunico and Makayla Grijalva can be contacted on Twitter @ShaylaCunico and @MakaylaEliboria.