SB258 Reduces Penalties for Possession of Small Amounts of Marijuana and Drug Paraphernalia
Santa Fe, NM – This afternoon, the New Mexico’s State Senate voted (33-9) to pass Senate Bill 258, sponsored by Senator Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, reducing penalties for adults who possess small amounts of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. The final vote was bi-partisan with eight Republicans voting in support (Baca, Brandt, Ingle, Moores, Neville, Pirtle, Rue, and Woods). The bill was amended on the floor to reduce the amount that would be decriminalized from 1 ounce to ½ ounce. The amendment was introduced by Senator Moores, R-Abq. A similar bill in 2015, also sponsored by Cervantes, narrowly passed the house on a 21-20 vote but didn’t have time to get thru the House. Senate bill 258 now advances to the House.
The proposed legislation makes 1/2 ounce or less of marijuana and possession of any drug paraphernalia a penalty assessment with a fine of $50; a penalty assessment is not considered a criminal conviction. It also makes drug paraphernalia a civil penalty with a $50 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.
“Adopting financial civil penalties for small amounts of marijuana for personal use would be a major step forward for criminal justice reform in our state,” stated Senator Joseph Cervantes. “This bill alone would free up dollars that are better spent by law enforcement agencies and courts on more pressing public safety needs.”
The New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts have reported that in 2016 there were over 2,000 possession of marijuana one ounce or less cases filed in magistrate and metropolitan courts, which were not related to any DWI, domestic violence, or a felony charges. There were 3,660 cases of use or possession of drug paraphernalia, which were not attached to DWI, domestic violence, or felony charges.
Senator Mark Moores, R-Abq., who introduced the amendment and voted in support of the measure said, “This bill garnered my support because it only reduces penalties for people using marijuana for their own personal use. Individuals selling and distributing marijuana would still face the same penalties they do today. In no way does this bill lessen those penalties.”
New Mexicans agree it is time to change the way we are policing marijuana in the state. In November 2014, 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.
“Although we would have preferred our legislators support statewide legalization of marijuana, this bill represents an important step forward by making sure we are not making criminals out of thousands of New Mexicans who do not belong in jail,” stated Emily Kaltenbach, the New Mexico State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “I am troubled by the millions of taxpayer dollars that are spent every year on processing thousands of low level marijuana misdemeanor offenders. Even more troubling is that young people and people of color are disproportionally arrested for marijuana in our state.”
To date, 21 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 Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is the nation's leading organization of people who believe the war on drugs is doing more harm than good. DPA fights for drug policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights.