Attempts to legalize marijuana in New Mexico are apparently dead for this year. A legislative proposal that would have put legalization on the ballot in November stalled in committee in February and is unlikely to move forward.
The state Senate Rules Committee cast a tie 5-5 vote on whether to forward the proposal to another committee. From there it would have gone to a full vote in the Senate and then on to the state House of Representatives.
Passage by the full legislature was always considered an uphill fight, even though Democrats control both chambers. Conservative and rural lawmakers largely oppose legal weed.
The initiative would have let voters decide whether to make recreational cannabis legal for adults over 21. If it passed at the polls in November, regulations and taxes would have been left up to the legislature.
The committee vote was largely along party lines, with one Democratic member joining four Republicans against the other five Democrats. The constitutional amendment was sponsored by state Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, a Democrat, who said it’s unlikely any votes would change before legislators adjourn for the year. But he said he would try again in 2015.
“We’ll just keep trying until it happens,” Ortiz y Pino said. “I think it’s inevitable.”
New Mexico is a relatively liberal state in the heart of the American Southwest. Though it’s sandwiched between the conservative states of Arizona and Texas, nearly half the state is Latino, making for a leftward tilt somewhat amenable to legalization.
Voters there elected Republican governor Susana Martinez, a former prosecutor, in 2010, but her signature isn’t required on Ortiz y Pino’s bill. If it passed the House and Senate, it would go straight to voters.
Recreational weed is now legal in two states, Colorado and Washington. National advocates are pushing to legalize 10 other states by 2017, from Arizona and Nevada to Rhode Island and Vermont. California, Oregon and Alaska are considered the front-runners.
New Mexico is not on the list of targeted states, but activists there are trying anyway, as they are in states all across the country.
They have plenty of opposition. Some Republicans believe marijuana proponents are using a constitutional amendment as a way to get around Martinzez, who opposes legal weed. These lawmakers say pot should be approached as a legislative matter, not a constitutional one.
“I just don’t think smoking a bowl of pot is a constitutional right,” said Republican Sen. Mark Moores.
But supporters of the legalization said the time has come to reform New Mexico’s drug laws. Medical marijuana is already available there, and they think voters are ready to stop punishing users.
“It’s time for this debate,” Emily Kaltenbach, state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, told lawmakers. “Let’s design a system that works for New Mexicans.”