By

Darrin Harris Frisby/Drug Policy Alliance

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For nearly 50 years, the failed war on drugs has devastated the lives of thousands of New Mexicans and disrupted the economic and social fabric of many of our communities. The continued enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws disproportionately impacts people of color who are on average almost four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than their white counterparts, despite equal rates of use across race. New Mexico stands out when it comes to racial disparities in arrest.  A recent ACLU report shows that New Mexico experienced an increase of over 100 percent in Black-white cannabis arrest disparities from 2010 to 2018.

The harms caused by cannabis policies under prohibition require that new cannabis policies and legal regulations include remedies to address and repair past harms and inequities.

An ever-growing majority of New Mexico voters support cannabis legalization, 75 percent to 23 percent. Among Democratic voters, support is near universal, at 94 percent. Independents support legalization at 78 percent. And when equity provisions, such as reinvesting back into communities most harmed by prohibition or allowing equity in the cannabis market, are added to the question, support increases—for example, Independent support increases to an astonishing 93% with equity provisions intact.

The public wants legalization and is demanding equity to be an inseparable part of this new policy. Voters want funding to be reinvested back into communities most harmed by the War on Drugs.

What we know is that legalization must be responsive to the lives of New Mexicans, not solely business interests.

Just last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment & Expungement (MORE) Act that frames cannabis reform as a racial justice and equity mandate.  The MORE Act was the first piece of comprehensive cannabis reform legislation that decriminalizes marijuana—and the only one centered in reparative justice—to pass either chamber of Congress.  Arizona and New Jersey passed legalization proposals this past year that center equity and racial justice as well, with New York preparing to consider similar legislation in their upcoming session.

Legalizing cannabis is without a doubt a social justice and criminal justice reform proposal.

As New Mexico considers the end of cannabis prohibition, any legislation that moves forward in New Mexico should be comprehensive and contain these key provisions:

 1.       Equity in the new marketplace

  • Allow individuals with prior cannabis convictions to work in the new cannabis industry and to apply and receive a license.
  • Create a microbusiness license that would create an opportunity for small New Mexico businesses to enter the marketplace while requiring other licensing fees to be scaled on the size of the business.
  • Require the state to create a social and economic plan to encourage diversity in licensing.
  • Authorize the Executive to enter into intergovernmental agreements with Indian Nations, Tribes and Pueblos regarding the implementation and compliance in connection with legalization.

 2.       Protections for the use of cannabis

  • Prohibit police from stopping and searching an individual or vehicle based on the smell of cannabis alone.
  • No denial of public benefits or health care based on cannabis use or a positive cannabis drug test.
  • Prohibit prior cannabis convictions to bar anyone from licensure or employment of any kind.
  • Conduct allowed under the new law shall not in itself constitute grounds for intervention, removal or placement into state custody of a child; denial of custody or visitation; and, presumption of neglect of child endangerment.

3.       Community Reinvestment

  • Invest at least 50 percent of revenue generated by cannabis sales back into communities most harmed by unfair enforcement of cannabis laws through the creation of a Community Reinvestment Fund.
  • One-time allocation from cannabis sales to fund an upgrade to the State’s criminal justice data system to allow for automatic expungement and resentencing of past cannabis convictions.

4.     Protecting Medical Cannabis Patients

  • Invest a portion of cannabis revenue into a subsidy fund to support low-income medical cannabis patients.
  • Eliminate GRT on medical cannabis sales.

5.     Protecting the Public’s Health

  • Fund a public education campaign that educates the community about the harms of use and educates adults on responsible use.
  • Limit advertising and marketing and include packaging restrictions to the greatest extent possible to restrict exposure to minors.

 6.     Reducing Criminalization

  • Create a reasonable penalty structure for remaining and new penalties. Create civil fines instead of criminal penalties where appropriate. 
  • Allow personal cultivation (home grow) of a small number of plants for recreational use.

New Mexico now has the opportunity to legalize cannabis the right way. New Mexicans are ready for cannabis legalization, and they want to see equity built into the legislative proposal to help right the many wrongs caused by the failed war on drugs.

Legislation introduced in the upcoming 2021 legislative session must reinvest back into communities most harmed by drug prohibition, particularly Hispanic/Latino, Black and Native populations in New Mexico.

Repairing the damage done by the war on drugs is not negotiable for New Mexicans.

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