SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – A key Senate committee voted to take another big step Tuesday toward the legalizing recreational marijuana in New Mexico.
On party lines with no Republican support, Senate Democrats passed the massive recreational cannabis bill through the Senate Public Affairs committee Tuesday night, 4 votes to 3.
The proposed Senate Bill 115 would create and regulate the recreational sale of marijuana in New Mexico to people 21 years old and over.
While the bill still has more committees to get through, the vote is a sign that lawmakers may be able to pass the landmark proposal during the shorter 30-day session lawmakers are now one week into.
During Tuesday’s debate, Democrats defending the legislation, saying the law is rigorous in its regulation of the drug.
“I think we can identify here today those issues that truly drive violent crime and truly drive our public safety issues, cannabis is not among them, not chief among them at least,” said Democratic Senator Jacob Candelaria during the Tuesday hearing.
However, some Republicans expressed concern about problems they believe legal marijuana will cause, especially toward children.
“I don’t see that this is protecting our children in that way and that concerns me,” said Republican Senator Craig Brandt.
Under the proposal, the state would tax the sale of recreational marijuana and spend the money mainly on law enforcement training and equipment along with drug treatment programs.
Democrats defended provisions of the bill Tuesday, arguing that the law will effectively keep marijuana from getting into underage hands.
“The requirements in this bill to protect children from accessing cannabis are stricter, with all due respect, than the restrictions in this state on children being able to get a firearm at the age of 18,” Senator Candelaria said.
In addition to safety concerns, Republicans raised worry about what they say are weak penalties for
people caught growing marijuana for themselves without a license.
“As long as you don’t have over six plants, you’re going to get a little slap on the wrist, maybe a $50 fine, well what law enforcement agency is going to give a rip and do anything about it when it’s a $50 fine?” Senator Craig Brandt said.
Outside of the hearing Tuesday, a coalition of local advocates voiced their opposition toward the proposal, saying recreational marijuana would become a threat to road safety and employers.
“As businesses, we see in this legislation one way or another, the infringement of an employers right to a safe and drug free workplace,” said Teri Cole, president of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.
San Juan County Sheriff Shane Ferrari voiced his concern about the bill, saying there’s no effective way to test of marijuana impairment.
“Right now, we don’t have sufficient law, we don’t have a level of impairment for marijuana, we don’t have a test that’s validated, that’s accept by the courts, and that’s going to be a huge issue for local law enforcement,” Sheriff Ferrari said.
The governor has expressed her support for legalization, pointing to its economic benefits.
The bill heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee. That is expected to happen sometime next week.