New Mexico is poised to decriminalize adult-use cannabis, becoming the 24th state in the U.S. to do so.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill that will decrease the penalties for cannabis possession from a criminal offense to a mere civil violation.
People who are caught in possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana will no longer be required to serve jail time. Instead, they will only face a $50 fine.
There will also be reduced penalties for those who will be caught with drug paraphernalia.
This new state law pertaining to cannabis reform will go into effect on July 1, 2019.
Only decriminalization and not legalization
It should be noted, though, that decriminalization of adult-use cannabis is not similar to full legalization. It only means that criminal penalties that are linked to the recreational use and possession of marijuana are no longer imposed. However, civil penalties like fines still remain in place. Meanwhile, the sale of marijuana for recreational use is still prohibited and considered a criminal offense.
Full legalization, on the other hand, no longer imposes both civil and criminal penalties for the use and possession of cannabis. As for the sale of adult-use cannabis, it is usually allowed in licensed dispensaries. The sale of cannabis without license, though, would still remain against the law.
Adult-use cannabis legalization advocates express concern
Advocates for the legalization of adult-use cannabis are concerned that while decriminalization would keep the sales of recreational marijuana illegal, it would push users into the black market just so they could obtain the drug. And everybody knows that unregulated cannabis products from the illicit market did not go through proper quality control processes and laboratory testing.
Moreover, the fines for cannabis possession and use can also be problematic, considering that in other states that have decriminalized cannabis, the drug is still used by police as a catalyst for racial profiling.
What about fully legalizing cannabis in New Mexico?
Gov. Grisham supports the legalization of recreational cannabis and has earlier said that she will add the issue to the agenda for next year’s legislative session. The governor has some power to set the agenda as it is a 30-day session.
There was an earlier proposal to fully legalize the drug and allow for state-run dispensaries — the Cannabis Regulation Act or House Bill 356 — but it was not approved by the state legislature this year.
New Mexico legalized medical cannabis in 2007.