Legal marijuana healthier choice


February 26, 2020

Seems like everybody else saw it coming, but not me.

Since Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham had appointed a big-deal of a task force to consider all the angles, and since a super-majority of the state’s citizenry favors it, and since there’s so much money to be made on it, I figured it would sail through even a short legislative session.

But I was wrong. Turns out lawmakers weren’t ready to pull the trigger.

Who would’ve thought legalizing recreational marijuana in New Mexico would be so difficult?

This is the second session in which we’ve had a governor who is unequivocal in her support for legalization, and since her Democratic Party also controls the House and Senate, you’d think they’d get it done in short order.

Silly me, thinking it would fly through without a hitch. Only feel-good legislation does that.

I’ve read and seen reports explaining why Senate Bill 115 died in committee. Critics had several complaints about the legislation: They worried over keeping it away from children, protecting the public against impaired drivers, ensuring certain workplaces would be drug-free. Plus, some lawmakers didn’t feel they had enough time to study over the 173-page bill and its details.

But I’ll throw in another reason it didn’t pass: the oil-and-gas boom.

If pot is ever fully legalized in New Mexico, it’ll be a cash cow for state coffers. Proponents say that if it had passed this year it would have created about 11,000 jobs and generated $100 million in tax revenue over its first five years.

But, right now, the state is sitting fine without that extra economic boost. The latest figures had New Mexico’s unemployment rate at 4.5% (not bad, though the national jobless rate is 3.5%), and there’s an $800 million increase in general fund revenues projected for next fiscal year, so the state is already flush with funds.

Down the road, the need for new revenues will return — especially since Lujan Grisham pushed through our state’s version of a “green new deal.”

As we wean ourselves off fossil fuels and onto renewable energy sources by mid-century, we’ll need new revenue streams to offset the loss of our oil-and-gas money. Legalizing pot could be one of those new moneymakers.

But I’ve been in support of legalizing recreational marijuana for years now, and not just because of the money it’ll bring in. I also want to bring the industry above ground.

Our mistake over nearly a century of pot prohibition has been in treating its use as a criminal infraction rather than a health concern.

Now — after only a few years of uninhibited study — we recognize cannabis for its medicinal benefits as well as its health hazards, with the risk especially high for young people whose brains are still developing.

By legalizing marijuana, we bring those risks to the surface. A central reason why it’s a “gateway” to more serious drugs is because recreational users must go underground to get it, where the most dangerous illegal drugs reside.

Legalizing a comparatively mild drug that people are already using is more than an economic issue. It’s the healthier choice. Let’s remember that, the next time legalization comes up.

Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. Contact him at:

[email protected]


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