Group pushes NM to abolish “drug free” zones

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Sitting around every New Mexico school is an invisible but important line 1,000 feet in each direction. Deal or possess drugs outside of it, there’s one penalty. Deal or possess drugs inside of it, the maximum potential punishment doubles in most cases. That circle is most commonly known as a drug free school zone.

“They were created as a safe haven for our children,” said Diane Goldstein, a retired police lieutenant with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a national drug advocacy group. “It made the public feel better. There was this perception of the cops and our federal government and others are trying to protect our children.”

But Goldstein says while the zones have increased penalties, it hasn’t gotten the results backers of the law were hoping for. Goldstein points to a teen survey that shows teen drug use and access to drugs has stayed flat for the past two decades.

“What we have right now is we have drug dealing whack-a-mole,” Goldstein said. “Every time law enforcement whacks a drug dealer near a school there’s vacuum of leadership and 10 other people move into that market.”

Goldstein presented the idea of doing away with drug free school zones to the Criminal Justice Reform subcommittee Wednesday.

Lawmakers News 13 spoke to said it was an intriguing idea, but not one they’d push anytime soon.

“In a lot of areas of criminal justice work, the bigger hammer has not shown to be as effective as we’d like,” said Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque. “But when it comes to kids and drugs we need to take every precaution possible.”

Committee co-chair Moe Maestas, D-Albuquerque, says making changes to drug-free school zones is “not a priority” or something being seriously considered.

Maestas does say that the committee is looking at other parts of criminal law, including upping penalties for murder and aggravated assault while decreasing penalties for non-violent crimes like pot possession.

Prosecutors have run into occasional hiccups enforcing drug-free school zones. A court ruling requires they prove a suspect knowingly trafficked or possessed drugs within 1,000 feet of a school.

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