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Editorial: Wait and see on pot law

For now, New Mexico should not succumb to ”reefer madness.”

Stoner euphoria reigns in Colorado where the new year ushered in legal sales of marijuana – which remains a Schedule 1 illegal drug under federal law, meaning it is considered highly addictive and having no medical value. At this time, the U.S. Justice Department is not interfering with states that have legalized pot as long as it is strictly regulated.

Now, a New Mexico state senator says he will push for a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational use of the popular drug for adults over 21 here, too.

Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, says he will model his amendment on Colorado’s Amendment 64, which voters passed to legalize recreational marijuana use. Washington state also legalized pot in 2012 via a ballot initiative. Sales will start there later this year.

“I think the argument we’ll make is that this is basically an opportunity for the public to decide if they want to do it,” Ortiz y Pino said.

If the Legislature approves it, the proposal would go directly to voters, bypassing the governor who opposes legalization. If voters approved it, the Legislature would weigh in with regulations in 2015. Many enforcement questions beg for answers, among them how to handle driving while under the influence of marijuana in a state with a dreadful DWI problem.

Proposed legislation last year to reduce criminal penalties for personal marijuana use passed the House but never was addressed by the Senate. And an act of the Legislature really would be superior to a vote to alter the state constitution.

Whether marijuana use is taken up in the form of a bill or a constitutional amendment, the prudent response for New Mexico is to first see how outright legalization works out in other states or jurisdictions.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.