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Lawmakers to bring back pot debate to upcoming session

Chris Ramirez
December 30, 2016 06:38 AM

As lawmakers head to Santa Fe next month, they are staring down the barrel of a multi-million dollar budget shortfall. A growing number of legislators think one way to fix that is by legalizing and taxing marijuana.

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Ask any legislator, however, and they'll tell you what stands in the way of legalizing recreational marijuana in New Mexico:  Republican state lawmakers and Gov. Susana Martinez.

One legislator – Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces – believes this is the time New Mexico should legalize pot. For him, it's a fix to the state's depressing budget forecast. McCamley believes in the first year alone, a pot tax would add $60 to $70 million to the state's budget. Studies have shown similar numbers.

"We want to take control of cannabis out of the hands of drug cartels in Mexico who are using profits to rape and murder people and put profits in the hands of legitimate business people and the government," McCamley said.

McCamley is sponsoring a bill in the upcoming 60-day legislative session to legalize recreational marijuana. If the House and Senate approve the bill, the governor would either sign or veto it.

With the current budget woes, New Mexico lawmakers must consider making hard cuts to education, public safety and basic government services. McCamley believes the legal sale of marijuana could put a dent in the state’s financial problems.

“We want to bring $60 million for funding education and economic development and save cops and courts and prisons $33 million a year from prosecuting cannabis crimes that they could use to go after real criminals,” he added.

In Colorado, the state is flooded with money. New Mexico’s neighbor to the north is using its cannabis money to send more students to school, hire more police officers, and add more dollars to classrooms.

"And a lot of their revenue is not just from the tax on marijuana," said state Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, another proponent of legalizing marijuana. "It's from economic activity that has been stimulated by the legalization. Hotels are fuller. Restaurants are more active. A lot of the tourist economy is stimulated by this."

McCamley's bill is expected to hit dead waters when it hits the governor's desk. Martinez is on record opposing legalizing marijuana.

"Hopefully we can make the argument to the governor that it's better to have money for criminal justice going to the people who are fighting rapists and murderers, rather than people who are using cannabis," he said. "Hopefully we can make the argument to her that in a year where we are facing such a huge budget shortfall – $200 million – bringing $60 to 70 million would not solve the whole problem, but it would be a big chunk of it. That money would be going to fund our kids and our schools and help create new jobs in other areas that would help the economy grow."

Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, also believes legalizing recreational marijuana means new money into a poor state like New Mexico while at the same time stopping those who make purchases from the cartel. But his approach differs from McCamley’s. Ortiz y Pino wants to send the question directly to New Mexico voters.

Knowing Martinez is opposed to legalized pot, his idea bypasses her completely. If the legislature passes his version, it would go to New Mexico voters as a constitutional amendment.

"I think in the best of all possible worlds, we would not have to go to the constitutional amendment route," Ortiz y Pino said. "For one thing, it delays it two years. We can't vote on it until 2018 now, without any of the benefit."

If Ortiz y Pino’s joint resolution passes, voters would vote on the constitutional amendment during the next statewide election in 2018. If voters say yes, in 2019 the legislature would then formally legalize pot and set the rules for the industry. 

Credits

Chris Ramirez

Copyright 2017 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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