A majority of New Mexico voters support legalizing recreational marijuana. And a governor who opposes the idea will leave office at the start of the year, giving hope to some supporters of the idea.
But even if New Mexico’s next governor supports the legalization of recreational marijuana, a familiar obstacle would still stand in the way: the state Senate.
State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino has sponsored legislation to legalize recreational marijuana since 2014. He’s tried with constitutional amendments in the past, but since Michelle Lujan Grisham, who supports legalization, won office then the effort will go through regular statue.
And he knows that even though public sentiment has shifted, 2019 still won’t be the year things go his way. “It’s going to be tough,” Ortiz y Pino told NM Political Report. “The House will probably vote for it. The Senate is going to be its usual 30-years-behind-the-times self.”
The Albuquerque Democrat attributed opposition in part to the age of senators. “I think it’s a generational or a cultural thing more than anything,” Ortiz y Pino said.
This isn’t stopping supporters from working to make legalization of recreational marijuana a reality. Emily Kaltenbach, the director of the New Mexico chapter of the Drug Policy Alliance, noted that of the eight states that have legalized recreational marijuana, only one state has done so through the legislative process—Vermont. All other states, including New Mexico’s northern neighbor, Colorado, legalized recreational marijuana through ballot initiatives. New Mexico law, however, does not provide for statewide ballot initiatives.
Kaltenbach says Vermont is “a model for states to follow a path to get through a legislative process.”
There are benefits to passing the effort through the legislative process—like no need for an expensive, likely contentious and time-consuming campaign.