New Mexico governor signs marijuana decriminalization bill
Last update: April 5, 2019
On April 3, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed SB 323, which decriminalizes up to a half ounce of marijuana. New Mexico is the 24th state to decriminalize marijuana possession, and starting on July 1, the penalty for possessing up to half an ounce of marijuana will be a $50 civil fine, instead of potential jail time.
Unfortunately, a bill to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana for adults died in the Senate Finance Committee after passing the House. Adults should have access to safe, regulated places to purchase marijuana, and 60% of New Mexico voters agree, according to a poll from last year.
New Mexicans are ready for legalization, and it’s time for the politicians in Santa Fe to catch up. But New Mexico lacks a voter initiative process. The only way to replace marijuana prohibition with thoughtful regulation in the Land of Enchantment is via the state legislature (directly or by lawmakers putting the issue on the ballot).
Albuquerque decriminalizes marijuana
On April 12, 2018, Albuquerque’s mayor signed an ordinance that decriminalizes simple possession of marijuana under city law.
The ordinance reduces the city’s penalty for under an ounce of marijuana to a $25 civil fine. Police Chief Mike Geier voiced his support, saying, “This new legislation allows officers to focus on violent crime, property crime and drunk driving.”
Albuquerque joined two other localities in supporting decriminalization. In November 2014, voters in Santa Fe and Bernalillo Counties — representing 40% of the state’s population — approved advisory questions asking their elected officials to support decriminalization. The questions won with 73% support in Santa Fe County and 59% in Bernalillo County.
The legislature adjourned its 2018 session in February, and bills to decriminalize and regulate marijuana (SB 141, SJR 4, and HB 312) did not even receive a vote.
New Mexico is one of 32 states (plus D.C.) that have removed criminal penalties for the medical use of marijuana. As of October 2018, there were 58,789 registered patients served by dozens of licensed nonprofit producers. In addition, 7,341 patients have licenses to cultivate cannabis for themselves.
In a ruling made public on November 2, 2018, a judge overturned the 450-plant cap imposed on licensed nonprofit producers, finding it was arbitrary. Many patients had suffered from a lack of supply and high prices due to the cap. On March 1 2019, the Department of Health temporarily increased the plant count to 2,500 plants.
For information on New Mexico’s medical marijuana program, including information on qualifying conditions and how to become a patient, please visit the New Mexico Health Department’s information page.
While New Mexico’s marijuana laws are less draconian than those of most states, the state still criminalizes its residents for using a substance that is safer than alcohol. Possession of one ounce or less of marijuana for nonmedical purposes is punishable by a $50-100 fine and up to 15 days in jail. A second offense, or a conviction for possession of more than an ounce, can lead to a fine of up to $1,000 and a prison term of up to one year.
In 2015, the Senate approved a bill to replace criminal penalties for possessing up to an ounce of marijuana with a $50 civil fine, but the House failed to take a vote on the measure.
- Ask your state legislators to support imposing a modest civil fine, not jail time, on simple possession of marijuana.
- Urge your legislators to replace marijuana prohibition with sensible regulations.
To stay updated on the status of marijuana policy reform in New Mexico, subscribe to MPP's free legislative alert service.