New Mexico became the 24th state to remove the threat of jail as a punishment for possessing small amounts of marijuana on Wednesday.
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Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) signed the cannabis decriminalization bill, which decreases penalties for possession of up to half an ounce of marijuana to a $50 fine. Penalties for possession of drug paraphernalia are also reduced under the legislation.
Lawmakers sent the bill to Grisham's desk last month.
A fiscal impact report prepared by legislative staffers says that the new law "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."
Marijuana policy reform advocates are pleased that people caught possessing small amounts of cannabis will no longer be met with potential time behind bars, but they are disappointed that the legislature failed to pass broader legislation to end prohibition altogether.
“New Mexico just took an important step forward toward more humane marijuana policies. It will no longer brand cannabis consumers criminals or threaten them with jail time for simple possession,” said Karen O'Keefe, state policies director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “But it’s a shame that only one piece of the war on marijuana is ending in New Mexico this year."
Last month, the New Mexico House of Representatives approved a more far-reaching bill to legalize marijuana and regulate its production and sales. The proposal, which differs from cannabis laws in other states in that it would have put sales mostly in state-run stores, later advanced through a Senate committee but did not make it to a floor vote in that chamber by the end of the legislative session.
"Voters support regulating, taxing, and legalizing cannabis for adult-use, and the Senate should have heeded their call,” O'Keefe said.
Grisham, who endorsed legalization during her election campaign last year, has said she will include moves to end prohibition on the legislature's agenda for next session.
In the meantime, aside from signing the decriminalization bill into law, Grisham signed a hemp bill on Monday. Legislation to expand the state's existing medical cannabis law is also pending on her desk, and she is calling on regulators to add opioid addiction as a medical marijuana qualifying condition.
Twenty-three other states and Washington, D.C. already have laws that have removed the threat of jail as a penalty for low-level marijuana offenses. That includes 10 states that have legalized cannabis for adults.
While the term "decriminalization" has been used to describe a broad group of laws, and there is no strict legal definition, the Marijuana Policy Project defines it as "a law that imposes penalties other than jail time for possession of marijuana, at a minimum, for a first offense."
Last month, a Texas House committee approved a marijuana decriminalization bill that is now awaiting floor action.