New Mexico can fund public health and safety; create new jobs; and right decades-old wrongs that have destroyed families and neighborhoods, and stretched our criminal justice system to its limit. 

This story also appeared in Commentary

How? Legalize adult-use cannabis. 

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has proposed it and nearly three out of four New Mexicans approve of it–with appropriate provisions to ensure tax revenue is invested back into communities. Support is nonpartisan. And the time is now.

But critics aim to chip away at that support, relying on decades of probationary propaganda to make their case. 

Today, one-in-three people live in a state where adult-use cannabis is legal.  And the sky hasn’t fallen.

Opponents claim that legalization “will endanger public health and put people’s lives at risk.”

But the current situation is actually endangering the health and risking the lives of our neighbors and friends.  Anybody who wants a cannabis product today can buy one in New Mexico– without much difficulty. However, those products are unregulated and untested–in a word: unsafe. 

Legalizing adult-use cannabis allows the state to tax and regulate cannabis, limiting purchases to consumers aged 21+. Public health will not be compromised.

Critics will claim an uptick in traffic accidents and fatalities. 

Yet studies show cannabis-positive drivers possess a comparatively low accident risk, particularly when compared with alcohol-positive drivers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that cannabis positive drivers possess virtually no statistically significant crash risk compared to drug-free drivers after controlling for age and gender. By contrast, drivers with detectable levels of alcohol in their blood at legal limits possess nearly a four-fold risk of accident, even after adjusting for age and gender.

So, there won’t be more traffic accidents and fatalities. 

“But what about the kids?” they will ask.  

Usage in states that legalized adult-use cannabis has actually fallen among young people. A study in The Journal of the American Medical Association makes clear that kids don’t use more once cannabis is sold legally.

I wonder why the same zealots don’t advocate for a similar ban on alcohol and prescription drugs. 

Sadly, New Mexico has one of the highest rates of prescription drug overdose deaths in the US. Cannabis does not increase prescription drug abuse, and the adoption of medical cannabis laws has actually reduced opioid usage, hospitalizations and deaths. A study of Medicaid patients found that states with legal medical cannabis had a 5.88 percent lower rate of opioid prescriptions.

Cannabis is not a gateway drug. It’s an exit drug. 

And then there is their show stopper: “Crime will go up.”

Actually no, it won’t. Washington and Colorado saw “minimal to no effect” on major crimes after legalization, according to a 2019 study in “Justice Quarterly.” An unrelated study, which examined crime data from 1990 through 2006 found no increase in crime in states with medical cannabis laws. Researchers also found a potential correlation between medical legalization and a reduction in violent crime.

The more we wait to do the right thing, the more our local police will spend needlessly enforcing cannabis-related crimes, rather than more pressing concerns. Every year police dedicate more than $3.6 enforcing pointless possession laws and make about 820,000 needless arrests.

Legalizing adult-use cannabis has no effect on crime rates. 

The State Legislature must now decide the fate of multiple legalization bills that have passed the House and await Senate action. Lawmakers must ignore the fear mongering, turn off the noise and vote based on facts. 

Adult-use cannabis legalization is the right choice for New Mexico.

Patricia Monaghan is an Attorney at Law with a focus on Cannabis-Business Law. Ms. Monaghan is a member of the New Mexico State Bar, the American Bar Association, Albuquerque Bar Association and the International Cannabis Bar Association.