While voters in Washington and Colorado have already approved recreational use of marijuana, a direct vote by New Mexicans is not yet on the political horizon.
Even with a 2013 Gallup poll showing that a record high of 58 percent of Americans favor legalizing the plant, a constitutional amendment proposed here seems like a long shot.
Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, introduced a bill last month that is scheduled for a hearing in front of the Senate Rules Committee on Friday, but a lone Democratic senator appears to have the power to block the measure from gaining the approval of lawmakers and heading to the ballot in November.
Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, tells SFR that he hasn’t made a final decision, but doesn’t think that now is the time to make cannabis legal.
He’s siding with four Republicans on the committee who are standing in solidarity with Gov.
Susana Martinez against Senate Resolution 10. A tie vote of the 10 members at the Feb.7 meeting would effectively kill the measure for this lawmaking session. Sanchez said this weekend that he doesn’t think New Mexico should follow its neighbors to the north.
“We need to wait to see what happens in Colorado first,” says Sanchez, who also concedes that cannabis will likely be legalized in NM in the future.
But even then, Sanchez says he doesn’t want a direct vote by residents on the matter. He believes it should only be debated by lawmakers and legalized by statute.
Despite a pessimistic canvas of committee members, Drug Policy Alliance of New Mexico State Director Emily Kaltenbach says she’s not giving up on Ortiz y Pino’s resolution yet.
“This issue deserves a real debate by all the members on the Senate floor,” says Kaltenbach. “We’re not asking lawmakers to vote on legalization themselves.”
Arguments against allowing voters to decide on a constitutional amendment, Kaltenbach insists, would deny New Mexicans access to a major tenant of democracy.
“Let’s give them a chance to voice their opinion,” she says.
Wilderness Medicine Training Center Instructor Patrick Noble, a former Santa Fe County emergency medical technician who also favors a direct vote, tells SFR that he doesn’t think it makes economic since to wait another five or six years to legalize pot while watching Colorado reap all the economic benefits from taxing and regulating pot.
Noble, aware of the contentious politics behind the issue, says he thinks the tide is turning in favor of legalization. He’d like to see the revenue collected from sales tax and grow permits be used to fund substance abuse programs or education.
The ranking member of the Senate Rules Committee, Sen. Sander Rue, R-Sandoval, declined an interview with SFR on the issue. Some pundits theorize that open-minded Republicans and libertarians who may otherwise support marijuana legalization are making political calculations about putting the issue on a general election ballot because it could boost Democratic voter turnout in November.
For now, Ortiz y Pino says he’s still trying to persuade Sanchez, “but he hasn’t budged.”
Note: An earlier version of this story said the hearing was planned for Wednesday, but SFR learned after press time Tuesday that it's now scheduled for Friday. Committee hearing agendas change frequently. We'll try to keep you posted.