New Mexico police decline to comment on marijuana legalization

Multiple New Mexico Police Departments have declined to comment on the potential legalization of recreational marijuana in the state. The issue is rising in political circles based on the latest wave of Democrats elected into state and national office.

On Nov. 6, voters elected Michelle Lujan Grisham, handing the governor’s office to the Democrats. In her campaign platform, Lujan Grisham said, “I am committed to working with the legislature to move toward legalizing recreational cannabis in a way that improves public safety, boosts state revenues and allows for New Mexico businesses to grow into this new market.”

Lujan Grisham also stated that the process should include extensive research into the 10 states who have legalized marijuana.

NM governor elect Michelle Lujan Grisham (Courtesy Photo)

The issue may also get more attention in Congress. Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) was among the candidates who rode a Democratic wave to victory in the U.S. House. She too campaigned on a platform that included legalizing marijuana for those ages 21 and older.  On the priorities page of her campaign website, she said legalization ensures kindness and inclusion in America.

If government officials taking office in 2019 are leaning towards legalizing recreational marijuana, the question is, what do those who enforce the laws have to say regarding the issue?

When contacted for an interview many Police Departments declined to comment including, the Albuquerque Police Department, the New Mexico State Police, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department and the Rio Rancho Police Department.

University of New Mexico Sociology Professor, Christopher Lyons, teaches courses on drugs, crime and social control. Lyons said through the evidence that has started to be compiled from states early cannabis legalization states like Colorado and Washington, there is a good sense that the crime rate does not increase.

“Generally those are small potatoes when you think about the general crime rate in our state,” Lyons said.

Lyons said there are exceptions to that evidence, like the rate of infractions related to cannabis use and more organized crime related to cannabis.

In a report from the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization released earlier this year, marijuana was found to decrease crime and other drug and alcohol consumption in Washington state after legalization.  

In 2017, Colorado had its lowest number of DUI cases in the past 10 years, according to Colorado Crime Stats.

Lyons said that more research needs to be done on the consequences of legalization, public health issues, driving under the influence, and border issues.

In a report from KOB, Colorado sheriffs warned New Mexicans that the homeless transient population had increased and that the illicit drug market is bigger than before.

“We don’t have a great understanding of what will happen,” Lyons said.

When asked about what the public misses out on when police do not join in on the conversation, Lyons said that legislators are talking with law enforcement about unintended impacts legalization may have, as well as what this would actually mean on the ground for the deployment of officers.

“It’s a valuable perspective,” Lyons said. “But, not the only perspective.”

In 2018, Albuquerque decriminalized the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana . The legislation substituted fines and jail time with a $25 fee. This was the most recent time that the Albuquerque Police Department made a public comment on the issue.

In 2007, Governor Bill Richardson signed a bill that made New Mexico the 12th state to legalize medical marijuana. To date, 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for medical purposes.

Currently, according to governing.com, recreational marijuana is legal in a fifth of the fifty states as well as the District of Columbia. New Mexico could join Vermont in becoming the second state to legalize through the legislative process instead of a ballot vote.

 

Bethany Johnson can be found on twitter @bethanyjson.