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Bill reclassifying NM drug possession penalties advances

In this December 2018 photo, a heroin addict prepares a dose for himself in Humacao, Puerto Rico. A bill that would no longer classify possession of some drugs as a fourth-degree felony was approved Friday in a New Mexico Senate committee. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

SANTA FE — A bill that would make drug possession a misdemeanor offense in New Mexico is headed to the Senate floor.

The measure, Senate Bill 408, would cover all types of drugs, including heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine.

While marijuana possession is currently a misdemeanor offense, those convicted of possessing some other degrees can face a fourth-degree felony.

Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, the bill’s sponsor, said individuals convicted of felony drug possession, often end up in prison and face future barriers in getting a job once they are released.

He argued Friday the law should treat drug possession as a health condition, not a criminal behavior, and said prosecutors could still charge individuals arrested with large amounts of drugs with the felony offense of trafficking.

The bill is also backed by the Law Office of the Public Defender, which claims it could reduce expenses for the state’s judicial system.

But critics questioned why repeat offenders would not face stiffer penalties under the legislation. In addition, Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo, cited the perceived dangers of synthetic marijuana.

The bill ultimately passed the Senate Judiciary on a 6-2 vote. One Republican, Sen. Mark Moores of Albuquerque, voted for the measure while Democratic Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces voted against it.

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