Help us support local, independent news.
100% of reader donations support our local journalists.
For less than a subscription to the Journal for one reader, you can keep our news free for everyone in ABQ.
Keep It Local
Worry Less About Weed on The Ballot and More About Local Leaders Optimistic on Legalization
by Joshua Lee
The election is just a few breaths away, and I couldn’t be more nervous. All sorts of bizarre chicanery and high weirdness is bound to come crushing down on us like an avalanche, and whatever’s left after the dust and debris settle will likely dictate the next two decades of world history. That’s some kind of pressure there, folks. No wonder my aunt keeps reminding me to vote every day.
Well at least I won’t have to worry about whether I’ll be voting for or against cannabis. No matter who gets into office, you’re unlikely to see many differences in their approach to governing marijuana—which is to say: They won’t approach it at all.
It’s unfortunate, but it seems that the nation is way too busy putting out fires—both literal and figurative—to care much about the future of cannabis. But does that mean it’s all over? No, dear reader. Despite what you might have heard on social media, the apocalypse is not descending. And no matter who wins, someone is going to have to deal with the ragged economy next year. Considering the current state of the cannabis market, it’s likely that federal legalization will become a talking point over the next four years.
But in the meantime, voters should probably worry more about local elections. “Folks who support cannabis should pay attention down-ballot this election,” says Ben Lewinger, Executive Director of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce. “Neither President Trump nor candidate Biden support adult use legalization, although Biden does support national decriminalization and decarceration—which is a huge step in the right direction. While other states have the question on statewide ballots, New Mexico is tackling the issue legislatively. This means it’s incumbent on us to research where our candidates for state House and Senate stand on the issue.”
This year New Mexicans get to completely rebuild the state Legislature. While the House has shown plenty of support for legalizing recreational cannabis, the Senate has dropped the ball on a several occasions over the last few years. Many of the more conservative lawmakers are giving up their spots this year, meaning we’ll potentially see more support for legalization this legislative session, but ultimately it will be determined by how New Mexicans vote.
And in 2020 we have a number of anti-legalization hacks out there right now, vying for a seat at the table. Vehemently anti-pot Republicans like Sen. Sander Rue, Sen. Candace Gould, John Morton and Crystal Diamond are all gracing this year’s ballot and can almost certainly be counted as votes against legalization in January.
NM Leaders Optimistic About Cannabis
During a recent hour-long livestream, House Speaker Brian Egolf and District 11 Rep. Javier Martínez expressed optimism about cannabis legalization in 2021.
According to Martínez, lawmakers have been studying the recreational markets in states where marijuana has been legalized to build a better system. “We are interested in doing it the right way, so that our model can actually be a model for the rest of the country. We’ve learned the lessons of Colorado; we’ve learned the lessons of California—two states that legalized through ballot initiative. Quite frankly there are a lot of gaps in their models. Particularly with regard to medical and racial equity. We do not want to make those mistakes ourselves.”
Martínez went on to reference marijuana’s legal history as a political tool to silence agitators in the ’70s (read: Black civil rights activists) and the need for equity to address the ways in which the War on Some Drugs has disproportionately affected people of color.
Emily Kaltenbach from the local chapter of the Drug Policy Alliance was also invited to the livestream. She told Egolf that new legislation will help to reduce the harm of both prohibition and problematic drug use. “We shouldn’t be just legalizing for the sake of legalizing. It shouldn’t be because of a business interest. It should be really reflective of the needs of families and individuals in New Mexico.”
The rights of employees enrolled in the state’s medical cannabis program and the need to open up banking for cannabis companies were topics that were also discussed during the livestream.
Barrett Questioned on Marijuana
During the third day of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker asked the nominee if she was familiar with the racial disparity experienced by many people of color in the War on Some Drugs.
“In 2017 there were more possession of marijuana arrests in America than all the violent crime arrests combined—overwhelmingly and disproportionately African American people,” he said. Barrett appears to be listening intently as Booker speaks. Her head nods. Her brow creases with concern. Her breathing is slow and steady.
“You can’t turn on the TV and watch basketball without courageous athletes trying to talk to the heart of America to say, ‘Please listen. Please listen. The system is endangering lives.’ ” Barrett swallows hard here, like she’s forcing a rock down her throat. It seems like the message is penetrating. She’s having an emotional reaction to the senator’s heartfelt words. But will it be enough to sway her? We’ll just have to stay glued to our seats. [ ]