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Senate votes to decriminalize pot possession

SANTA FE, N.M. — Efforts to legalize recreational marijuana use in New Mexico appear doomed for the ongoing 60-day session, but at least one other pot-related bill is on the move.

The Senate voted 33-9 on Thursday to approve legislation that would reduce the penalties for adults in possession of a small amount of marijuana.

Under Senate Bill 258, possession of a half-ounce or less of marijuana would be punishable by a $50 civil fine, instead of a criminal misdemeanor that can carry possible jail time. The $50 fine would also apply to drug paraphernalia possession.

Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, the bill’s sponsor, called the measure a “major step forward for criminal justice reform” and suggested it could reduce the burden on courts and law enforcement agencies.

Eight GOP senators voted in favor of the measure – eight Republicans and one Democrat voted in opposition – that now goes to the House. It would also have to be signed by Gov. Susana Martinez to take effect.

DISPUTE: Republican members of a House committee stormed out of a hearing earlier this week after a Democratic lawmaker’s comments about a GOP colleague.

The incident occurred during Wednesday’s meeting of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, after Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, claimed Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerue, had “sniveled” to a television station about a GOP-backed child abuse bill being tabled.

Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, said Thursday that Republican committee members felt compelled to walk out because they felt decorum had been compromised.

“We should hold ourselves to a higher standard than that,” Larranaga said.

Maestas apologized to Maestas Barnes and other members for the House committee at the start of Thursday’s meeting, and the bill was later revived and sent to the House floor on a 15-1 vote.

But in a statement to the Journal, Maestas said he’s still concerned about the cost of criminal penalty bills, saying, “House Republicans need to put their money where their mouths are. We cannot be tough on crime until we fully fund the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office and the courts.”

HOOPS: The streak lives on.

The New Mexico Senate “Lobos” defeated the House “Aggies” 36-29 Wednesday evening, extending their win streak in the annual legislative basketball game to four years.

Despite having a shallower bench – the Senate has 42 members, the House has 70 – the Senate used a zone defense to overcome a first-half deficit and notch the win.

Senators celebrated their victory Thursday with speeches on the Senate floor. Sens. Bill Soules, D Las Cruces, Howie Morales, D-Silver City, and Cliff Pirtle, R Roswell, were among those singled out for their performances.

The charity game also raised $30,486 for the University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center, the event’s primary beneficiary.

Dan Boyd: dboyd@abqjournal.com

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