[Canniseur: Decriminalization is just the beginning in New Mexico. There are also bills for legalization of medical cannabis and adult use in New Jersey, Wisconsin and several other states. Any or all can pass.]
A bill that would decriminalize low-level marijuana possession was approved by the New Mexico Senate on Tuesday by a vote of 30 to 8.
The proposal, introduced by Joseph Cervantes (D) of Doña Ana County, would decrease penalties for possession of up to a half-ounce of cannabis to a $50 fine, treated as a penalty assessment misdemeanor.
“Payment of a fine pursuant to a penalty assessment citation shall not be considered a criminal conviction,” reads a fiscal impact report on the bill.
The bill, SB 323, also provides a $50 penalty for the possession or use of drug paraphernalia such as pipes or bongs.
Possessing greater amounts of marijuana would be met with higher penalties.
The decriminalization bill’s advancement through the Senate comes as broader proposals to legalize marijuana are also moving forward.
Last month, two bills allowing taxed and regulated sales of cannabis to adults were approved by three separate committees. House Bill 356, proposed by Democrats, would legalize sales through regulated businesses and allow home cultivation of up to six plants. It would also expunge low-level drug convictions in the state. Meanwhile, Republican-led Senate Bill 577 would not allow home growing and would place all sales within state-run retail stores.
The House legalization bill is currently on the floor calendar and could receive a vote in that chamber soon.
The fiscal impact report on the more incremental bill to decriminalize possession approved by the Senate on Tuesday outlines some of the cost savings associated with the proposal.
“SB 323 could have a positive fiscal impact on the courts, prosecutors, and public defenders; workloads could be lessened by reducing the charges of possession of marijuana up to one-half ounce and use or possession of drug paraphernalia to penalty assessments,” it says. “These penalty assessments would not require court hearings, unless the charges are contested.”
“Currently, these charges carry criminal penalties that require court hearings to be set automatically. Criminal charges, which carry the potential of jail time, require the defendant to be arraigned by a judge, and often require additional hearings to resolve the charges,” the Legislative Finance Committee explained. “Processing of penalty assessments involves less court resources than criminal cases.”
According to the New Mexico Department of Public Safety, in 2018 there were 2,165 cases of possession of marijuana in the amount of one ounce or less and an additional 3,312 cases of use or possession of drug paraphernalia.
“These numbers reflect that a reduction in these types of criminal charges would have a significant impact on the workload of the justice system,” the legislative analysis reasons.
It is unknown whether or when the House will take up the Senate decriminalization bill.
Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Passes New Mexico Senate was posted on Marijuana Moment.
[Editor’s Note: The U.S. government is the biggest impediment to cannabis research. A.G. Barr promises to review the matter and take appropriate action. We hope he does the right thing and quickly.]
The largest organization representing psychology professionals in the United States is calling on the federal government to expand the legal supply of marijuana for use in scientific research.
In a letter addressed to Attorney General William Barr, the American Psychological Association (APA) is requesting that the Department of Justice immediately evaluate the more than two dozen applications for cannabis cultivation licenses that stalled under his predecessor Jeff Sessions.
“The scientific community is eager to advance cannabis research on both the harmful and therapeutic effects of cannabis and its derivatives,” APA President Arthur Evans Jr. wrote on Wednesday. “Without access to an expanded range of cannabis products engineered under [Food and Drug Administration]-approved Good Manufacturing Practices, scientific research cannot hope to keep pace with the ever-expanding recreational and medicinal cannabis marketplace.”
Cannabis and its constituent compounds are of significant interest to psychological scientists, both to those interested in use, abuse and dependence, as well as to those interested in using marijuana and its derivatives to treat health conditions.
But for the past half century, all marijuana for use in federally authorized research has been supplied by a single facility at the University of Mississippi. Scientists have complained that it is difficult to obtain product from the school, however, and that its quality is often less than ideal.
Evans called the current system “costly, cumbersome and limited by a sole source supply.”
“[W]e urge you to take immediate action on the existing pool of cannabis grower applications so that our nation’s scientific community can continue to expand the study of both the harmful and potential therapeutic effects of cannabis and its derivatives.”
Addressing those concerns, the Drug Enforcement Administration established a formal application procedure in 2016 to license additional cultivators.
Since then, at least 26 applications have been received, but the Department of Justice has refused to process them, a situation that led frustrated lawmakers to send a series of bipartisan letters pressing Sessions to act. Senators from both sides of the aisle called on the then-attorney general to stop blocking efforts to increase research and, in committee hearings, Sessions said he was supportive of allowing more people to grow marijuana for research purposes.
But the applications never moved under his tenure.
The letter from APA, which has more than 118,000 members, asks Barr to “take immediate action to facilitate critically needed cannabis research by evaluating the more than two dozen cannabis grower applications that have languished for over two years at the Department of Justice.”
Barr said last month in written testimony to senators that he supports “the expansion of marijuana manufacturers for scientific research consistent with law” and pledged to “review the matter and take appropriate steps.”
In September, the House Judiciary Committee approved legislation designed to force the Justice Department’s hand by requiring it to issue additional licenses. The bill died after it didn’t receive a floor vote, but its sponsor, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), refiled a new version in January following the start of the 116th Congress.
Evans, of APA, said that the current limited supply of marijuana available for research isn’t particularly useful in evaluating the effects of the the type of cannabis products that are now available to consumers under the laws of a growing number of states.
“While [the National Institute on Drug Abuse] provides a staple catalog of cannabis products and derivatives for research, it cannot keep pace (nor should it be expected to) with the range of products available to consumers in the 10 states that have approved recreational cannabis use or the 34 states distributing cannabis products through medical dispensaries,” he wrote in the new letter to Barr.
Evans cited a 2016 NIDA request for information that asked the scientific community about topics of interest for further cannabis research. The most consistent recommendation was to have marijuana strains and products available that reflect the diversity available at state dispensaries.
“That would include cannabis strains and hybrids with higher tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content, more reflective of what is found in state programs (up to ~30 percent THC), as well as increasing the number and variety of cannabis chemotypes to include not only a range of THC concentrations, but also other cannabinoids: cannabidiol, cannabigerol, cannabinol, cannabichromere, tetrahydrocannabivarin, terpenes (e.g., linalool, terpinolene, nerolidiol, myrcene) and flavonoids with varying ratios of each to better isolate and characterize their constituent pharmacological effects,” Evans wrote
“There is also increasing demand to improve the quality of placebo cannabis because the current process for its manufacturing removes not only THC but many other compounds, including other cannabinoids as well as volatile compounds (terpenes) that contribute to the color and olfactory characteristics,” he added. “A more effective placebo would better mimic the taste, smell and look of active cannabis.”
Evans wrote to Barr that scientists also need access to an “expanded range of formulations for varying routes of administration to reflect what is available in state dispensaries, including for oral, sublingual, respiratory, rectal and dermal delivery of purified and whole plant extracts along with matching placebo formulations (e.g., edibles, hash oil, budder, wax and shatter).
Scientists Push Attorney General To End Marijuana Research Logjam was posted on Marijuana Moment.
[Editor’s Note: Two bills. Two houses. The bills to legalize cannabis for adult use in New Mexico are completely different in the way they would handle legalization. It will be fascinating to watch the compromise between the House and Senate. The House bill has expungement language. The Senate bill does not. We’re going to follow this.]
Two different visions for how marijuana should be legalized in New Mexico made progress on Saturday as legislative committees voted to advance separate bills to end cannabis prohibition.
One proposal that would legalize use of recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older and would task the state with licensing retailers now heads to the full House of Representatives after being passed out of the House Judiciary Committee with a 7-3 vote.
The legislation would allow adults to grow their own cannabis, provided they receive a license from the state, and it also includes language to expunge arrest and conviction records for certain prior marijuana cases. The committee amended the bill to allow employers to maintain zero tolerance policies regarding marijuana use by workers.
Earlier this month, the proposals was approved by the House Health and Human Services Committee.
Shortly after the latest House victory on Saturday, the Senate Public Affairs Committee voted 5-0 to advance a separate bill that would legalize marijuana sales through state-run stores but prohibit personal growing of cannabis on small scale. Unlike the legislation in the other chamber, the Senate bill lacks language on expungement.
It must pass through two more committees before going to the Senate floor.
Both advancing bills propose varying taxes to be levied on marijuana, although medical cannabis sales would not be taxed under either measure.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) won election last year after campaigning on a pro-legalization platform. During her first State of the State speech in January, she pledged to make opioid addiction a qualifying condition to receive medical marijuana. Grisham has also called for any legislation legalizing cannabis to address workplace intoxication, public safety, underage use and regulation of edible products.
Earlier this month, lawmakers in Hawaii and New Hampshire voted to advance marijuana legalization bills, and a key committee in Vermont approved legislation to legalize cannabis sales in the state.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.
New Mexico Lawmakers Vote To Advance Two Separate Marijuana Legalization Bills was posted on Marijuana Moment.