Push to legalize pot stalls

SANTA FE (KRQE) – Efforts to legalize marijuana in New Mexico this year went up in smoke Tuesday morning.

Four Republicans and a Democrat voted to block a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for recreational use from moving forward at a Senate Rules Committee hearing.

The proposal would’ve asked voters to OK allowing adults 21 and older to possess and use pot and then allowed lawmakers to later set rules regulating how it could be sold, consumed and taxed.

Colorado’s recent legalization was the center of a lot of the conversation about the idea in committee, with some senators saying it would be better for New Mexico to study the effects of what’s happening there before moving forward.

But bill sponsor Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, says the additional tax revenue and new jobs created in the marijuana and hemp industries would have been a shot in the arm for the state economy.

“We need something to spark life,” Ortiz y Pino said. “[Saying] we should wait for other states and we should learn from them just doesn’t cut it anymore.”

Even opponents of the measure seemed to support moving ahead with decriminalization efforts, something a separate sub-committee is looking into, but said legalizing marijuana through the constitution wasn’t the way to go.

“I don’t believe smoking a bowl should be a constitutional right,” said Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque. “Our constitution is about how we govern ourselves and what our fundamental rights are and I don’t believe legalizing marijuana belongs in our constitution.”

One of the reasons Ortiz y Pino chose to attempt marijuana legalization through a constitutional amendment is to get around Gov. Susana Martinez, who is opposed to the idea.

Both Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana through constitutional amendments in 2012.

Marijuana advocates are optimistic state voters would approve legalization if given the chance. A Drug Policy Alliance poll from a year ago shows 52 percent of state voters are in favor of the idea.

The earliest a statewide vote on legalizing marijuana wouldn’t happen until 2016.

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