NM Democratic Party backs legal pot

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico Democrats adopted a party platform during last weekend’s pre-primary convention that, for the first time, supports the legalization of recreational marijuana use statewide.

While the new party platform isn’t binding, it could lead to awkwardness for some Democratic lawmakers who have opposed past efforts to add New Mexico to the ranks of legal cannabis states.

“Just because it’s in the platform doesn’t mean all the Democrats in the state support it,” Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, told the Journal on Thursday.

Bills that would have made New Mexico the 10th state to legalize recreational cannabis use – and taxing its sales – have stalled in the Legislature in recent years, despite a Democratic majority in both chambers. The state already has a medical marijuana program.

Sanchez has been among the Democrats opposed to the measure, arguing that New Mexico should tread cautiously because the state already has high rates of drug addiction and driving while impaired.

Gov. Susana Martinez has also staunchly opposed legalizing recreational marijuana use since taking office in 2011. But the two-term Republican governor is barred from seeking a third consecutive term in office and will step down at the end of this year.

Two of the three Democrats seeking the party’s gubernatorial nomination are in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who outpaced her rivals at last weekend’s pre-primary convention, said Thursday that she supports the concept but wants an analysis to be conducted on how other legal cannabis states have handled children’s safety and impaired driving issues before such a law is enacted.

“I am committed to working with the Legislature to move towards 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 said.

Jeff Apodaca, a former Albuquerque media executive, vowed he would work with legislators during the 2019 session to legalize cannabis for adult use and expand the state’s medical marijuana program.

“New Mexico has suffered from foot dragging for too long – we need big ideas if we want to stop being last in everything,” Apodaca said Thursday. “I’m proposing major change to leave behind old cannabis laws and legalize it to create new jobs and industries.”

For his part, state Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces has sponsored legislative proposals to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, but said he’d be wary of full-fledged legalization.

“The states which have just legalized marijuana don’t have New Mexico’s drug, DWI and crime problems, and as governor these have to be among my first priorities,” Cervantes said in a statement.

The lone Republican running for governor, U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, has also opposed legalizing marijuana.

Specifically, the platform adopted last weekend by the Democratic Party of New Mexico – with more than 90 percent of delegates voting in favor – includes a provision that Democrats will support the decriminalization and legalization of cannabis in the state. It also calls on Democrats to encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from its list of prohibited substances.

The Democratic Party’s previous platform, adopted in 2014, called only for decriminalization, not legalization.

A party spokeswoman said Thursday that the platform is not binding for Democratic elected officials but is considered to be a set of guidelines representing party values. She also confirmed this year’s platform marks the first time the Democratic Party of New Mexico has officially endorsed legalization of marijuana.

Some Democrats welcomed the new plank, including state Rep. Bill McCamley of Las Cruces, who is running for state auditor.

“I’m really glad the Democratic Party has decided to push for this as an organization,” said McCamley, who has sponsored legalization bills in each of the past four legislative sessions.

“This is going to happen,” he added. “There’s not one single thing we could do as a state to create more jobs than legalizing cannabis.”

Meanwhile, enrollment in New Mexico’s medical marijuana program has skyrocketed in recent years, with 48,821 patients as of last month, according to state Health Department data. That’s up from fewer than 10,000 patients in September 2013.

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