Proposal to Decriminalize Cannabis Filed in New Mexico

By Drug Policy Alliance

Senate Bill 383 would reduce the penalty structure for possession of up to 4 ounces to a civil penalty with increasing fines while taking away the potential for jail time for any amount up to 8 ounces.

SANTA FE, NM — New Mexico State Senator Joseph Cervantes (D-Dona Ana County) has introducednm a bill to reduce penalties for adults who possess small amounts of marijuana.

The proposed legislation, Senate Bill 383, would reduce the penalty structure for possession of up to 4 ounces to a civil penalty with increasing fines while taking away the potential for jail time for any amount up to 8 ounces.

Penalties would be determined based on the quantity of marijuana in possession, and if the offender had been previously cited for marijuana possession:

  • One ounce or less, first offense: civil violation, $50
  • One ounce or less, subsequent offense: petty misdemeanor, $100 fine
  • 1 to 4 ounces, first offense: civil violation, $100 fine
  • 1 to 4 ounces, subsequent offense: petty misdemeanor, $200 fine
  • 4 to 8 ounces: misdemeanor, $300 fine
  • Over 8 ounces: fourth degree felony, up to 1.5 years incarceration and $5,000 fine

Currently, in New Mexico, possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana is a petty misdemeanor crime with fines and possible jail time; over 1 ounce and up to 8 ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor crime with large fines or possible jail time of up to 1 year.

Similar legislation passed the House of Representatives in 2013 with bi-partisan support, although the Senate failed to act on the bill before lawmakers adjourned for the year.

“I am troubled by the millions of taxpayer dollars that are spent every year on processing thousands of low level marijuana misdemeanor offenders — dollars that might be better spent by hard-pressed law enforcement agencies on more pressing public safety needs,” stated Emily Kaltenbach, the New Mexico State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.  “If ever there was a bill that advanced the smart on crime agenda, this is it.”

New Mexicans agree it is time to change the way we are policing marijuana in the state.  In November, voters in Santa Fe County and Bernalillo County voiced overwhelming support for marijuana decriminalization; Bernalillo County voting 60% and Santa Fe County voting 73% in favor of statewide decriminalization.  The state’s first vote on marijuana policy was not merely local; more than 40% of state voters weighed in and a clear majority of those casting ballots sent the message that voters are ready to end criminal penalties for marijuana possession. A 2013 poll by Sanderoff showed 57% of New Mexicans in favor of decriminalization.

“Having to expend scarce police resources pursuing and arresting non-violent adults for possessing small amounts of marijuana threatens  our public’s safety,” stated Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) Executive Director Neill Franklin. “When our police officers are on duty they should have access to the resources they need in order to deal with serious violent crime and to keep our communities safe.”

Limited resources like investigative time, crime lab analysts and jail and prison beds are needed for pedophiles, rapists and murderers.”

To date, eighteen states and the District of Columbia have reduced penalties for marijuana possession.  As of today, over 120 million people, or 1/3 of the U.S. population, live in jurisdictions where marijuana has been essentially decriminalized – meaning there is no jail time associated with possession.

The city of Santa Fe decriminalized small amounts of marijuana in 2014.

The full text of Senate Bill 383 can be found here.

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