Will Colorado’s marijuana legalization affect New Mexico?

By | November 22nd, 2012

Colorado voters this month approved Amendment 64, which legalizes possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana by anyone over age 21. While medical marijuana is legal in both Colorado and New Mexico, the Centennial State’s approval of recreational use raises questions for its neighbor to the south.

It’s unclear how Colorado’s legalization would be implemented, as it conflicts with federal law. But it does raise the question of whether a similar effort could succeed in New Mexico.

Brian Sanderoff, a pollster and KOAT 7 political analyst [see video above] said this recently…

“I think it would have a chance of passing in New Mexico at some point down the road.”

“So there would be no slam dunk that it would pass here in New Mexico, but I suspect it would have a much better chance of passing here than in the most of the states in the southern United States, say for example.”

New Mexico does not have an initiative process - which exists in Colorado - so New Mexico voters would not vote directly on such a legalization proposal. Instead, it would be taken up by the legislature, much like in 2007 when it passed Senate Bill 523, a bill to legalize medical marijuana that was signed into law by then-Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat.

By contrast, Republican Susana Martinez, as a gubernatorial candidate in 2010, had expressed interest in repealing the 2007 medical marijuana law, but has since shelved that view.

“She cited the economy and a state budget deficit that she projected at $450 million as topics more critical than repealing the medical marijuana law,” according to a January 2011 El Paso Times story about the newly elected governor.

Given her position then, and her 14-year experience as an elected Doña Ana County district attorney, it seems unlikely that Martinez would sign a marijuana legalization bill, even if one were to pass the legislature.

A secondary issue is whether Colorado - already known for its scenic mountains and world-class ski resorts - could become a focus of marijuana tourism for New Mexicans and residents of other neighboring states.

“The amendment doesn’t prohibit out-of-state adults from purchasing marijuana in Colorado, which raised concerns among New Mexico law enforcement about people driving back from Durango with pot or under the influence,” The Daily Times of Farmington reported.

A wild card in New Mexico is that it is home to one of legalization’s most vocal advocates, former two-term Republican Gov. Gary Johnson. Johnson ran unsuccessfully for president on the Libertarian Party ticket this year. He made ”ending the drug war” a key plank of his campaign and said marijuana should be regulated like alcohol. Johnson endorsed Colorado’s Amendment 64 and also speculated that Colorado could be the “first of 50 state dominoes to fall,” in a speech at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque on Oct. 9:

“And the reality is when everybody in the country gets on an airplane over the weekend to go to Denver to ‘chill out,’ that’s when the other 49 states fall in line with all of this.”