Twelve years after the Land of Enchantment instated a medical marijuana law, New Mexico’s governor has signed a bill that finally begins to lift the pressure on non-medical users of cannabis. The new law drops cannabis possession down to a petty misdemeanor and does the same for possession of drug “paraphernalia.”
Senate Bill 323, signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on April 3, eliminates criminal penalties for possession of up to a half-ounce (12 grams), instead imposing a $50 fine on first offense. Possession of larger amounts may still result in a felony charge. The penalty for paraphernalia possession is similarly reduced to $50 fine for a first offense. The provisions are set to take effect July 1.
Legislators cited the impacts of having served prison time on future access to fundamental rights such as housing and employment as reasons behind the penalty reduction. The statehouse Legislative Finance Committee additionally carried out a Fiscal Impact Report on the reduced penalties, finding that they “could have a positive fiscal impact on the courts, prosecutors, and public defenders.”
The report found: “SB 323 would reduce the number of criminal cases that the courts would need to process. For example, in 2018 there were 2,165 possession of marijuana (one ounce or less) cases filed in the magistrate and metropolitan courts, which were not related to any DWI, domestic violence, or felony charges. There were 3,312 cases of use or possession of drug paraphernalia, which were not attached to DWI, domestic violence, or felony charges. These numbers reflect that a reduction in these types of criminal charges would have a significant impact on the workload of the justice system.”
Medical Marijuana Program Loosens Up
Gov. Lujan Grisham also signed into law Senate Bill 406, marking the first major statutory change to the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, which established New Mexico’s medical marijuana program in 2007.
Most significantly, following the recent example of California, SB 406 will allow medical cannabis use on public school campuses under defined circumstances. School districts will be able to opt out if they determine that complying with the law could jeopardize their federal funding, but the law says that schools may not deny students access to education because they use medical cannabis.
The new law also allows registered medical marijuana patients from other states to participate in New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program. Addressing another area of increasing concern for users nationwide, the law additionally extends the renewal period for registration in the program, from one year to three. And in perhaps its most courageous move, the law will allow for licensed establishments to create “consumption areas,” subject to approval by the Department of Health.
New Mexicans will have to wait for full legalization, however. A proposal to legalize “recreational” cannabis sales and use in New Mexico passed the Legislature’s House of Representatives but stalled in the Senate without a floor vote.
Just two days after the new legislation was enacted, the University of New Mexico campus in Albuquerque hosted a career fair thrown by the company Cannabis NM Staffing. The idea was openly to build on the current atmosphere of liberalization and break the stigma associated with cannabis.
“What really makes a good candidate is someone who wants to be educated in the industry and be an advocate because there’s such a stigma in the industry, and that’s what we’re trying to do as a company is break the stigma of cannabis through education,” Cannabis NM Staffing marketing director Evan Wrons told local news source KRQE. “We’re looking for someone who wants to do that.”
He noted a recent dramatic jump in the number of plants legally cultivated in the state, according to a count by the Department of Health.
“The cannabis industry is booming,” Wrons told KRQE. “They did project that if it was legalized, that would’ve been 11,000 new jobs, but also, without legalization, the Department of Health recently increased the plant count from 450 to 2,500 plants, so it’s a 500 percent increase. Right now… medical cannabis companies are looking to expand. The time is now to grow.”
TELL US, what changes in your state’s medical marijuana program would you like to see?