Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – While debate on the issue simmers at the Roundhouse, most New Mexico adults continue to support legalizing recreational marijuana use and taxing its sales, a new Journal Poll has found.
Sixty-one percent of adults surveyed over the last week said they support New Mexico becoming the 12th state in the nation to legalize cannabis, while 33% said they oppose the idea. The rest either had mixed feelings or declined to answer.
The biggest predictor on New Mexicans’ feelings about marijuana legalization was age, as those ages 18 to 49 were far more likely to support the idea than those ages 50 and older.
“There’s a big divide based on age,” said Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., which conducted the poll. “Attitudes toward marijuana legalization are definitely generational.”
New Mexicans who identified as Democrats were also far more likely than Republicans to support legalizing recreational pot use.
Meanwhile, the Journal Poll also found that New Mexicans were still more likely to support legalizing marijuana when asked whether they preferred legalization, decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of cannabis or neither option.
When presented with those three options, 54% said they preferred legalization, 23% said they preferred decriminalization and 17% said they opposed both options.
New Mexico already has a decriminalization law on its books, as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham last year signed into law a bill that made possession of up a half-ounce of marijuana a civil offense punishable with a $50 fine.
Overall support for marijuana legalization in New Mexico has increased steadily in recent years.
Just 44% of voters supported the idea in a September 2014 poll, but that figure increased to 60% support in a Journal Poll conducted in September 2018.
Sanderoff said that trend matches a national shift on the issue of legalizing marijuana over the past several decades.
“It’s just one of those social issues that has gained support in New Mexico and nationally over time,” he said.
The Journal Poll found that support for legalizing cannabis was highest in north-central New Mexico – which includes Santa Fe – but residents of all regions of the state were more likely to support legalization than oppose it.
In addition, 25% of those surveyed said they had used marijuana in the past year.
Facing long odds
Proposals to legalize recreational marijuana have made incremental progress at the Roundhouse in recent years but have all stalled before reaching the governor’s desk.
A bill filed during this year’s 30-day session has cleared one Senate committee but has languished for more than a week in its second assigned committee.
With less than two weeks left in the session, it appears to be facing long odds to win final approval due to opposition from Republican lawmakers and some moderate Democrats.
But that hasn’t deterred Lujan Grisham, who has made the bill one of her top session priorities, arguing that legalizing recreational cannabis would immediately create 11,000 jobs and generate tax dollars that could be used on public safety programs.
“We’re fighting to get it done this year,” Dominic Gabello, the governor’s senior policy adviser, told reporters during a briefing last week.
Among other components, this year’s bill calls for state-level licensing, expunging marijuana possession convictions from individuals’ criminal records and giving local governments some authority to determine where cannabis dispensaries could be located.
Although tax rates would vary by city and county, the average statewide tax rate would be about 20%, backers say.
However, critics say legalizing marijuana could erode drug-free workplace policies, increase crime rates and lead to more impaired drivers on the state’s roadways.
The Journal Poll is based on a scientific, statewide sample of 515 New Mexico adults that is representative of the age, gender, race and geographical region of the state’s adult population.
The poll was conducted from Jan. 31 through Feb. 4. The voter sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points. The margin of error grows for subsamples.
All interviews were conducted by live, professional interviewers, with multiple callbacks to households that did not initially answer the phone.
Both cellphone numbers (75%) and landlines (25%) of New Mexico adults were used.