A bill that would decriminalize low-level marijuana possession was approved by the New Mexico Senate on Tuesday by a vote of 30 to 8.
— NM Senate Democrats (@NMSenateDems) March 5, 2019
The proposal, introduced by Joseph Cervantes (D) of Doña Ana County, would decrease penalties for possession of up to a half-ounce of cannabis to a $50 fine, treated as a penalty assessment misdemeanor.
“Payment of a fine pursuant to a penalty assessment citation shall not be considered a criminal conviction,” reads a fiscal impact report on the bill.
The bill, SB 323, also provides a $50 penalty for the possession or use of drug paraphernalia such as pipes or bongs.
Possessing greater amounts of marijuana would be met with higher penalties.
The decriminalization bill’s advancement through the Senate comes as broader proposals to legalize marijuana are also moving forward.
Last month, two bills allowing taxed and regulated sales of cannabis to adults were approved by three separate committees. House Bill 356, proposed by Democrats, would legalize sales through regulated businesses and allow home cultivation of up to six plants. It would also expunge low-level drug convictions in the state. Meanwhile, Republican-led Senate Bill 577 would not allow home growing and would place all sales within state-run retail stores.
The House legalization bill is currently on the floor calendar and could receive a vote in that chamber soon.
“The passage of decriminalization of marijuana in the NM State Senate, by a healthy margin, is good news as it represents bi-partisan support on an issue that was untouchable a few years ago,” Emily Kaltenbach, New Mexico director for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment in an email.
The fiscal impact report on the bill outlines some of the cost savings associated with the proposal.
“SB 323 could have a positive fiscal impact on the courts, prosecutors, and public defenders; workloads could be lessened by reducing the charges of possession of marijuana up to one-half ounce and use or possession of drug paraphernalia to penalty assessments,” it says. “These penalty assessments would not require court hearings, unless the charges are contested.”
“Currently, these charges carry criminal penalties that require court hearings to be set automatically. Criminal charges, which carry the potential of jail time, require the defendant to be arraigned by a judge, and often require additional hearings to resolve the charges,” the Legislative Finance Committee explained. “Processing of penalty assessments involves less court resources than criminal cases.”
According to the New Mexico Department of Public Safety, in 2018 there were 2,165 cases of possession of marijuana in the amount of one ounce or less and an additional 3,312 cases of use or possession of drug paraphernalia.
“These numbers reflect that a reduction in these types of criminal charges would have a significant impact on the workload of the justice system,” the legislative analysis reasons.
Kaltenbach of the Drug Policy Alliance argued that even though the legislation would have positive impacts, it doesn’t bring the benefits of broader legalization.
“However, it should be viewed as a stepping stone towards taxing and regulating marijuana for adult use,” she said. “Despite its benefits, decriminalization falls short in many ways – largely because it still lies in an illegal and underground market that does not diminish the potential harms such as access to youth and unregulated products with unknown potency and quality.”
It is unknown whether or when the House will take up the Senate decriminalization bill or the legalization proposal that has been moving through the chamber.
Santa Cruz Will Consider Decriminalizing Psychedelics This Week
Santa Cruz, California could be the latest in a wave of cities to decriminalize psychedelics, with a City Council hearing on the proposal scheduled for Tuesday.
The city vice mayor, Justin Cummings, recently introduced the resolution, which would make possession, use and cultivation of entheogenic substances such as psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca the city’s lowest law enforcement priority.
“Plants and fungi with psychedelic properties have been used for thousands of years by indigenous communities for spiritual and medical practices and many are considered illegal in our country,” Cummings told Marijuana Moment in an email. “As we begin to better understand the health benefits of these plants and fungi, we need to not treat the people who use and research these plants and fungi as criminals, and lower barriers for research, clinical treatment, and personal.”
“Santa Cruz has a number of organizations that conduct research on use of psychedelics to improve mental health and we as a community want to support these efforts,” he added.
The full City Council will hear a presentation from the advocacy group Decriminalize Santa Cruz and discuss the resolution on Tuesday. After that point, the measure will be referred to the Public Safety Commission for further consideration.
Text of the resolution emphasizes the medical potential of psychedelics and the ritualistic consumption of the substances throughout history.
If approved, that would mean the City Council “supports the possession, use, and/or cultivation of entheogenic psychoactive plants and fungi for personal adult use and clinical research and psychoactive practices, and declares that the investigation and arrest of individuals involved with the adult possession, use, or cultivation of entheogenic psychoactive plants and fungi listed on the federal schedule one list for personal use be among the lowest priorities for the city of Santa Cruz.”
The measure recommends that the use of psychedelics for medical or spiritual purposes “be done in consultation with, and under the supervision of trained/medical professionals.”
Additionally, it calls on the city manager to order Santa Cruz’s state and federal lobbyists to “work in support of decriminalizing all entheogenic psychoactive plants, and plant and fungi-based compounds listed in the Federal Controlled Substances Act.”
Psychedelics reform is moving ahead in jurisdictions throughout the U.S., with Denver becoming the first city to decriminalize so-called magic mushrooms in May. Oakland’s City Council followed suit, unanimously approving a resolution that expanding the decriminalization to a wide range of entheogenic substances.
Advocates are also working to advance decriminalization in Portland, Chicago, Berkeley and Dallas.
Meanwhile, California activists are pushing two separate statewide psychedelics initiatives: one that would decriminalize psilocybin across the board and another more recently filed measure that calls for broad legalization and commercial sales. Oregon activists are collecting signatures for a 2020 proposal that would legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes.
On the federal level, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) voiced support for decriminalizing psychedelics and promoting research into the substances in a video statement delivered at a Drug Policy Alliance conference last week.
Read text of the Santa Cruz psychedelic resolution below:
Sanders, Warren And Buttigieg Include Medical Marijuana In Veterans Day Plans
To commemorate Veterans Day, a number of presidential candidates are releasing plans focused on helping those who served the country in the military—and at least three major contenders are including marijuana-specific planks in their proposals.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), for example, wants to ensure that doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) “have the option of appropriately prescribing medical marijuana to their patients.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Barbara Lee Honors Veterans Day With Call To Action On Marijuana Reform
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) marked Veterans Day by promoting a bill she introduced that would effectively legalize medical marijuana for military veterans.
In a press release and email blast for the national advocacy group NORML, the congresswoman discussed the need to expand access to cannabis for those who’ve served, stating that studies demonstrate the plant can treat symptoms of conditions that commonly afflict veterans such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Lee said that as the daughter of a veteran, the issue is particularly important for her.
“Congress must do more to ensure every veteran has a roof over their head, to ensure our veterans come home to a job that pays them a living wage, and to ensure our veterans have access to the health care services they deserve,” she said in the press release. “That includes improving veterans’ access to medical marijuana.”
“That’s why I introduced H.R. 1151, the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, to empower veterans and their doctors to make informed decisions about the use of medical marijuana without political interference,” she said. “The current federal prohibition on cannabis is harmful and counterproductive. Politicians should never stand between our veterans and their health care.”
The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act was introduced in February, and the House version currently has three cosponsors, including Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL). The Senate companion version was filed by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and has two cosponsors, Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who signed on last week.
In her email for NORML on Monday, Lee said that cannabis prohibition has disproportionately impacted communities of color, but the policy also “falls hard upon is our nation’s veterans.”
The congresswoman noted that medical cannabis is widely used by veterans, yet doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) aren’t allowed to fill out recommendations, even in states where it’s legal. That would change under her legislation, she said.
Politicians should never stand between our veterans and their health care. That's why I introduced the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act to empower veterans and their doctors to make informed decisions about the use of medical marijuana without political interference.
— Barbara Lee (@BLeeForCongress) November 11, 2019
“This year, we can and must succeed in passing this essential legislation and protecting the rights of veterans to access medical treatment and serving those who served us,” she wrote, linking to a page where people can send a letter in support of her bill to their own representatives.
“Prohibiting VA doctors from recommending cannabis to qualifying patients, while continuing to rely on pharmaceuticals drugs like opioids as a treatment, is both a dangerous and illogical policy,” she said. “We know medical marijuana can be an effective and safe treatment for veterans and it is time to stop making them seek private, out-of-network physicians to access it.”
“I sponsored the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act because I know it will create an immediate positive impact on the lives of our veterans. Once enacted, veterans will be able to access medical marijuana treatment without the added challenge of accessing a private, non-VA physician. Together, we can gather enough support to pass this legislation, but it will only happen if enough Americans stand up and demand it. Please tell your member of Congress to support the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act.”
VA under the Trump administration has resisted marijuana reform legislation, with officials from the department testifying in a committee hearing in April that it opposed several proposals, including one that would require VA to conduct research into the medical benefits of cannabis for veterans.
Former VA Secretary David Shulkin, whose department also declined to take action on veterans cannabis issues, recently said that he’s in favor of increasing research into the plant’s therapeutic potential and blamed staff for misinforming him about what VA was capable of doing to that end while he was in office.
Lee, who serves as co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, also discussed cannabis reform in a video statement that was broadcast at a Drug Policy Alliance conference in St. Louis on Saturday. She didn’t address veterans issues specifically but rather spoke about broader reform efforts to federally legalize marijuana.
“We all know that the federal prohibition on marijuana has led to the overcriminalization and mass incarceration, especially in black and brown communities,” she told activists in the taped message. “That is why we need to ensure that as the cannabis movement marches forward, it does so hand-in-hand with efforts to address these racial inequities head on.”
“I think we’re at a pivotal moment for the cannabis movement. There is so much excitement for the progress we’ve made and for where we are pushing to go,” the congresswoman said. “If we do this right—by ensuring that we address the legacy of the failed war on drugs and center our work in restorative justice—there is no stopping us.
“I wish you success for your conference and the work ahead,” she said. “Stay woke.”
Photo courtesy of Rep. Barbara Lee.