Colorado law enforcement officials and prosecutors have expressed concern the state could become “the nation’s supplier of choice for marijuana.”
That seems unlikely, but Colorado certainly will become a supplier for New Mexicans.
Colorado voters in November approved a constitutional amendment to legalize limited possession and sales of marijuana for recreational purposes. Marijuana retail stores will be open as early as Jan. 1.
New Mexicans and other nonresidents won’t be able to buy more than a quarter-ounce in a single transaction, but at this point, there are no limits on the number of single transactions a nonresident can conduct within a specified time period.
You’ll be able to pick up some marijuana if you’re in Denver for a Broncos or Rockies game. Same if you’re in Pagosa Springs or Durango for a ski weekend, in Salida to whitewater raft or in the San Juans to hunt, fish or hike.
Want to just make a quick trip across the border for marijuana or some pot brownies? You’ll be able to do that, too. New Mexico and Colorado share about 340 miles of border.
You can also grow your own pot (maximum: six plants) if you have a second home in Colorado, as long as “growing takes places in an enclosed, locked space” and “is not conducted openly or publicly.” The marijuana cannot be sold.
A warning: You could be charged with a crime if you bring any marijuana back to New Mexico. State law prohibits possession of pot – except medical cannabis – whether it’s from Colorado or Timbuktu. Of course, lots of New Mexicans illegally possess marijuana.
So, the question isn’t whether Colorado pot is going to end up in New Mexico. The question is how much and how the state will be affected – good or bad – and how it will respond.
We may have more stoned drivers on the highways near the border. Some New Mexicans may decide to stop illicitly buying marijuana here and buy it legally in Colorado. Pot bought legally in Colorado could wind up being resold unlawfully in New Mexico. There are lots of possibilities.
Maybe the legalization of marijuana in Colorado will lead to a law in New Mexico that limits pot use by motorists. Maybe New Mexico will move to liberalize its marijuana laws. In March, the House passed a bill to eliminate the possibility of jail time for first-time possession of small amounts of marijuana, but the bill died in the Senate.
Former Gov. Gary Johnson, who has long advocated for marijuana legalization, says New Mexico might be more inclined to legalize pot given the Colorado experience.
“The sky didn’t fall in Colorado. We have front seats. Why don’t we do it here?” Johnson says. “The time has come.”
The former governor says he hopes marijuana legalization in Colorado doesn’t lead to state or federal law enforcement checking for pot in cars heading from there into New Mexico.
State Police Chief Robert Shilling says, as far as his agency goes, extra patrols or checkpoints near the border to combat pot importation aren’t in the cards.
In New Mexico, for the first offense, possession of an ounce or less of marijuana is a petty misdemeanor, and Shilling says devoting the agency’s limited resources to combatting a petty misdemeanor is a tough sell to taxpayers when there are more serious public safety threats.
Shilling adds, however, that New Mexico needs to monitor how the state is affected by legalized marijuana in Colorado, which could include an increase in drivers testing positive for pot in their blood.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper this week signed into law a set of bills that will govern the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, sale and testing of marijuana and marijuana food products.
Regulations to implement the laws must be in place by July 1, and marijuana retailers could be open for business on Jan. 1. Local governments can ban sales, if they wish.
Hickenlooper also signed into law a bill setting a marijuana blood-level limit for drivers. According to The Denver Post, juries can presume drivers are too stoned to drive if their blood contains more than 5 nanograms per milliliter of THC, marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient. Washington, which also has legalized marijuana, has adopted the same driving standard.
Marijuana remains unlawful under federal law, but the Justice Department hasn’t yet issued its response to the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at email@example.com or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to www.abqjournal.com/lettersto submit a letter to the editor.