Press Release  | 03/17/2001

Major Drug Policy Reform Passes In New Mexico Today

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Republicans and Democrats Vote to Prevent Drug Overdose, Help Stop the Spread of AIDS and Other Infectious Diseases, and Expand Treatment over Incarceration for Women

Santa Fe - The New Mexico state legislature today completed its 60-day legislative session, passing historic drug policy reform measures that will move the emphasis from law enforcement to public health and harm reduction. Gov. Gary Johnson (R) has pledged to sign the bills into law.

The bills that passed provide for the increased availability of naloxone, a medication that reverses the effects of heroin overdoses; distribution of sterile syringes to injection drug users through licensed pharmacies; restoration of voting rights to felons upon completion of their sentences; and early release and increased transitional and treatment services for women inmates convicted of non-violent, drug-related crimes.

Other drug policy reform bills moved forward with bi-partisan support, never losing a committee or floor vote but falling prey to the constitutionally-mandated end of the session at noon today. These included a medical marijuana bill that passed both the House and Senate floors but awaited a Senate vote that would reconcile amendments; a civil asset forfeiture reform bill that passed the Senate floor and all necessary House committees and was awaiting consideration on the House floor; a marijuana decriminalization bill that passed committees in both the House and the Senate but had not yet come to the floors; and a House bill providing for probation and treatment for first and second time drug offenders that passed out of House committee but had not yet come to the floor.

"Nothing like this has ever happened in any state before," said New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. "A year ago, no one wanted to talk about this issue at all. Now both Democrats and Republicans have committed to common-sense ways to reduce the harms associated with drug abuse and with our current drug policies."

These bills in New Mexico follow a growing national trend to pass drug policy reform measures favoring public health over incarceration and other punitive measures. For example in November, 2000, five U.S. states adopted major reforms through the initiative process, including treatment instead of prison for non-violent offenders in California; medical marijuana for patients when recommended by a doctor in Nevada and Colorado; and civil asset forfeiture reform in Oregon and Utah. New Mexico stands out, however, for having taken significant steps through the state legislative process.

"We thank New Mexico's legislators from both political parties and Governor Johnson for taking these common sense steps for drug policy reform," said Katharine Huffman, director of the New Mexico Drug Policy Project of the Lindesmith Center - Drug Policy Foundation. "By enacting these laws, the Governor and the Legislature have shown our nation that good drug reform policy can also be good politics. Legislators today emphasized public health and safety over rhetoric and fear."

A statewide poll conducted earlier this month found that a broad majority of New Mexicans support efforts to reform the state's drug policies: two-thirds support eliminating criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana and providing treatment instead of incarceration for low-level "hard" drug users, and four-fifths support providing medical marijuana to people with serious illnesses. The independent poll of 500 registered voters was conducted by the Albuquerque firm of Research & Polling, Inc., and can be obtained through the New Mexico Drug Policy Project.

"New Mexico has proven that drug policy reform is mainstream politics," said Democratic State Senator Roman Maes, Senate sponsor of the syringe sales bill and the medical marijuana bill. "The legislature's serious consideration of these bills shows how far we've come."

Drug Policy Bills Passed in New Mexico

Creation of Women's Reentry Drug Court (SB 200)

This bill provides for the early release of women convicted of non-violent, drug-related offenses into a reentry drug court program administered by a state district court. The program will provide for the possibility of treatment rather than incarceration for the last 18 months of a woman's sentence, as women will be eligible for increased transitional services as they move out of prison and back to their homes and communities.

Permit Pharmacies to Sell Syringes (SB 320; HB 812)

This bill would further the purposes of the 1997 New Mexico Harm Reduction Act of decreasing the spread of infectious diseases by increasing the availability of sterile syringes to drug users. Under current law, pharmacists face potential criminal liability under the Controlled Substances Act for selling syringes that are later used for illicit purposes. The bill will remove the potential for criminal liability for pharmacists licensed under the Pharmacy Act when they sell syringes, similar to the protection provided to those who distribute clean syringes pursuant to the Harm Reduction Act.

Limit Liability For Administration Of Anti-Opioids (SB 318; HB 813)

This bill would create civil and criminal immunity for a person who administers, dispenses, distributes, uses or possesses an opioid antagonist, so long as they act in good faith and use reasonable care. Opioid antagonists are medications that reverse the effects of opiates (e.g., opium and heroin) and prevent overdose and death by overdose.

Restoration of Felony Voting Rights (SB 204)

Formerly under New Mexico law, a person convicted of a felony permanently lost his or her right to vote in New Mexico. This bill restores the voting rights of those with a felony conviction once their sentence (probation, prison and parole) is completed.

Katharine Huffman at 212-548-0695 or Tom Lalley at 202- 997-0899

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