Press Release  | 03/01/2002

Governor Johnson to Sign Compassionate, Fiscally Responsible Drug Policies Into Law Today

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Governor of New Mexico to Approve Judicial Discretion for Habitual Offenders, Civil Asset Forfeiture, and Allowance of Federal Aid for Previous Drug Offenders
Second Year in a Row for Major Drug Policy Reform in New Mexico

Santa Fe, NM -- Today Governor Gary Johnson will sign three compassionate and common sense drug policy reform bills into law. These bills were passed by the New Mexico state legislature during the 30-day legislative session that ended on February 14.

"We applaud Governor Johnson for enacting the will of the people of New Mexico," said Katharine Huffman, director of the New Mexico Drug Policy Project. "Politicians are finally catching up with the public when it comes to enacting more common sense solutions to our drug problems."

The three new state drug policy laws are:

  • Judicial Discretion in Sentencing (Sponsor: Rep. Ken Martinez, D-Grants)
    Under previous New Mexico law, prosecutors could make anyone with a previous drug offense serve mandatory extra prison time, regardless of the seriousness of their prior or current offense. Now, judges will have more discretion over sentencing in certain cases.
  • Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform (Sponsor: Sen. Manny Aragon, D -
    Albuquerque) Under previous law, a person's assets could be seized and forfeited by state or local law enforcement before being convicted or even accused of a crime. Now, innocent property owners will be protected by: requiring criminal conviction prior to loss of property; a court order before property seizure; and proof by clear and convincing evidence that the property is subject to forfeiture.
  • State Waiver of Federal Ban on Benefits (Sponsor: Rep. Joe Thompson, R -
    Albuquerque) - New Mexico has become the 30th state to waive the federal law disallowing anyone convicted of a drug offense from qualifying for federally funded benefits such as TANF or food stamps - even after they have successfully completed their sentences. These benefits are important to people transitioning back into the community and getting back on their feet - especially those who are working to stay in drug treatment programs.

The legislature also provided for a state Prison Population Control Commission that will evaluate the cases of nonviolent drug offenders currently in state prison, determining the appropriateness of their continued incarceration.

"These improvements will go a long way towards wiser use of our law enforcement and prison resources," said Huffman. "We commend Governor Johnson for raising awareness about these issues both in New Mexico and around the country."

Last year Governor Johnson signed five drug policy reform bills into law. These new laws provide 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 - many of whom were convicted for drug-related crimes -- upon completion of their sentences; additional funding for increased science-based substance abuse treatment and prevention; and early release and increased transitional and treatment services for women inmates convicted of non-violent, drug-related crimes.

According to a recent report by the Justice Policy Institute, many states across the country are adopting laws and policies such as these. California and Arizona have passed laws allowing for treatment instead of incarceration for non-violent drug possession offenders. A half dozen states have reformed "mandatory minimum" sentencing laws by returning discretion to judges, including Alabama, Mississippi, Michigan, Indiana, Connecticut and Utah. And Texas and Ohio have supported "re-entry" programs to reduce recidivism.

Shayna Samuels at (505) 710-1937

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