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NM voters unlikely to get a chance to legalize pot

SANTA FE – A proposal that would have allowed New Mexico voters to decide whether to legalize and regulate marijuana was blocked Tuesday in a Senate committee, though the measure’s sponsor vowed to bring it back again next year.

“We’ll just keep trying it until it happens,” Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, told reporters. “I think it’s inevitable.”

ORTIZ Y PINO: Will bring measure back

ORTIZ Y PINO: Will bring measure back next year

The proposed constitutional amendment, modeled after a new law in Colorado, was stymied on a 5-5 vote in the Senate Rules Committee. The vote likely left the measure deadlocked for the rest of this year’s 30-day session, Ortiz y Pino said.

The committee’s four GOP members were joined by Democratic Sen. Clemente Sanchez of Grants in voting against the measure.

Opponents of the amendment said they are concerned about the public health effects of legalizing recreational marijuana use and don’t believe such a change belongs in the state Constitution.

“I don’t believe smoking a bowl is a constitutional right,” said Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque.

New Mexico Sheriff’s Association Executive Director Jack LeVick also testified against the proposal, urging senators to wait and see how Colorado and Washington fare with their marijuana legalization laws before moving forward.

If approved by lawmakers and voters statewide, the New Mexico legislation – Senate Joint Resolution 10 – would have called on lawmakers to return to the issue in 2015 to determine how marijuana might be sold, taxed and regulated in the state.

That could lead the state down a path like Colorado’s. New Mexico’s northern neighbor began allowing retail sales of recreational marijuana last month, with a 25 percent tax earmarked to help fund education programs.

Backers of the amendment say legalizing recreational pot use would create a similar revenue source for New Mexico, while allowing the state to redeploy resources currently used to enforce marijuana laws.

There were 3,041 arrests made for marijuana possession in New Mexico in 2010, which made up more than 30 percent of all drug-related offenses, according to an American Civil Liberties Union study based on federal crime data.

In response to concerns that legalizing recreational marijuana use might make the drug more prevalent, Ortiz y Pino said it’s already a common commodity in New Mexico.

“Any teenager in this state who really wants to find marijuana can find it by noon today,” Ortiz y Pino said. “We’re not going to increase the market.”

Meanwhile, a House committee on Tuesday advanced a memorial that would direct a legislative agency to study effects of marijuana legalization in New Mexico, including potential tax revenue, drug addiction rates and effects on employers.

That legislation is sponsored by Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces.

Journal staff writer James Monteleone contributed to this report.