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State representative stumps statewide for pot legalization

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An employee at the Verdes Foundation displays an announce of marijuana recently. The city of Albuquerque recently decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

SANTA FE – State Rep. Javier Martinez says he will travel throughout New Mexico ahead of the 2019 legislative session as he tries to build support for a proposal to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

Similar proposals have repeatedly failed to make it through the Legislature in recent years, but the push to legalize recreational use of cannabis in New Mexico is emerging as a high-profile issue in the race for governor.

And Martinez is armed with a new poll – paid for by a coalition supporting marijuana legalization – that shows public support is solidifying in favor of the idea.

A scientific telephone survey, conducted by Research & Polling Inc. in March, said that 63 percent of New Mexico adults would support a bill to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana sales to adults ages 21 and over.

That’s an increase of 2 percentage points over a similar poll in 2016, and the number of people “strongly supportive” of the idea has grown by 6 percentage points, according to the survey. It has a margin of error of plus of minus 4.8 percentage points.

“I think we’re seeing public opinion shift considerably,” said Martinez, a Democrat who represents Downtown Albuquerque and parts of the North Valley.

The poll had a statewide sample of 420 adults, not just registered voters. It was released Tuesday at a news conference at the Capitol.

The survey found that adults favor making public education a priority for additional revenue generated by taxing marijuana sales. It could generate an extra $60 million in annual revenue, according to some estimates.

Conservative Democrats in the Legislature, nonetheless, have helped block marijuana legalization proposals in the state House and Senate. They cite challenges identifying people who are impaired and driving or going to work, among other criticisms.

Martinez said he expects to visit Hobbs and other conservative parts of the state to help build support, and he said he’s willing to revise the legislation to address the concerns of opponents.

A new governor might also add to the political pressure.

In the Democratic primary, two of the three candidates support legalization.

Jeff Apodaca, a former media executive, says that if elected, he would push immediately for a bill to expand New Mexico’s medical marijuana program and legalize recreational use.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham says she supports legalization in concept, but wants to ensure questions about driving while impaired and the safety of children are addressed.

State Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces is wary of full-fledged legalization because of the state’s DWI problem, but he has sponsored bills that would decriminalize possession of small amounts.

The lone Republican in the race, U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, opposes legalization, as does the incumbent governor, Susana Martinez, a Republican who cannot run for re-election this year because of term limits.

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