Our view: Planting the seeds of thought

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Marijuana, it seems, has become the hot-button issue at every legislative session since Colorado pioneered legalizing its recreational use in 2014. 

The Observer is aware of both sides of the conversation and respects each. However, we stand for the legalization of recreational marijuana.

We’re not fans of getting high, but it seems laws against marijuana haven’t stopped many people from getting and using it. Have you noticed how many Rio Rancho Police arrest records involve marijuana?

If people are going to use it, we might as well get revenue for important public services from it. The state needs more money.

Plus, legal marijuana would hopefully take business away from unscrupulous dealers selling pot brought in from other countries at the expense of whatever life, however innocent, may have gotten in the way.

A few guidelines are important, though. First, the state’s medical cannabis program should remain intact and the age limit for accessing recreational cannabis should be 21.

After all, one of the most dangerous effects of cannabis is how it might be a “gateway drug,” meaning its use may lead people to move on to harder drugs. Allowing high school students — who don’t seem to have any trouble acquiring cannabis, according to several national studies — to use marijuana would be as irresponsible as allowing them to drink.

Also, it should remain illegal to drive while impaired by marijuana. Employers should be able to ban their employees from showing up to work under the influence of pot, or ban recreational use entirely for employees.

Finally, cannabis regulation should be efficient enough to not eat up all of the revenue collected from recreational sales.

Multiple cannabis-legalization bills presented this year in the legislature are gaining attention.

Among other things, House Bill 356, the Cannabis Regulation Act, would allow adults up to 2 ounces of cannabis or 16 grams of cannabis extract.

This bill sponsored by five Democrats would introduce a 9 percent excise tax for all cannabis products to be added to sales tax, excluding retail sales of medical marijuana.

Counties and municipalities will have the option to add their own excise tax up to 3 percent.

Senate Bill 577, the bipartisan Cannabis Regulation Act, would allow possession of half an ounce of cannabis or 4 grams of cannabis extract for adults. It would legalize displaying, purchasing, transporting and being under the influence of marijuana.

Taxes from the sales would go to the state and local governments, with some earmarked for police training and substance-abuse treatment. On top of a normal sales tax, the bill would impose a 4 percent state excise tax on all cannabis products and allow counties and municipalities to add their own tax, up to 4 percent.

We can learn from our neighbor to the north and try to implement programs that avoid the pitfalls Colorado felt after its decision.

Give it thought and pass the vote on passing the joint.