Monday, July 1, 2019

New Mexico Cannabis Decriminalization Law Goes Into Effect Today

What does this mean as New Mexico becomes the 23rd state to decriminalize cannabis, decriminalization is not the same as legalization of cannabis. Decriminalization means that the state of New Mexico has amended its laws to make certain acts criminal, but no longer subject to prosecution. In the cannabis context, this means individuals caught with small amounts of cannabis for personal consumption won’t be prosecuted and won’t subsequently receive a criminal record or a jail sentence. In many states and cities, possession of small amounts of cannabis is treated like a minor traffic violation.

The effective date of the provisions of the new cannabis decriminalization law is July 1, 2019.

Senate Bill 323, Decrease Cannabis Penalties, Introduced by Senator Joseph Cervantes.

Senate Bill 323 amends Section 30-31-23 NMSA 1978, within the Controlled Substances Act, to provide the following penalties for possession of cannabis:
  • Up to one-half ounce of cannabis: penalty assessment misdemeanor, up to $50 fine
  • More than one-half ounce but less than one ounce:  
    • First offense: petty misdemeanor, fine of not less than $50 or more than $100, and imprisonment for not more than 15 days 
    • Second or subsequent offense: misdemeanor, fine of not less than $100 or more than $1,000, or imprisonment for definite term of less than one year, or both
  • More than one ounce but less than eight ounces: misdemeanor, fine of not less than $100 or more than $1,000, or imprisonment for definite term of less than one year, or both
  • Eight ounces or more: fourth degree felony pursuant to Section 31-18-15 NMSA 1978
SB 323 also amends Section 30-31-25.1 NMSA 1978 to provide a $50 penalty assessment misdemeanor for use of or possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia.

SB 323 enacts a new statutory section within Chapter 31, governing criminal procedure, to provide that payment of a fine pursuant to a penalty assessment citation shall not be considered a criminal conviction. The new Section 3 contains requirements upon and authority granted to an officer issuing a penalty assessment citation under the criminal code, requirements upon the person to whom the penalty assessment citation is issued, and requirements for the magistrate or metropolitan court to which the penalty assessment citation is submitted. SB 323 provides that penalty assessments collected by a magistrate court or metropolitan court pursuant to Section 3 shall be transferred to the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) for credit to the Magistrate Drug Court Fund. (Legislative Analysis)

Karen O'Keefe, state policies director for the Marijuana Policy Project wasted no time in criticizing the Governor's action telling Forbes, “But it’s a shame that only one piece of the war on marijuana is ending in New Mexico this year." MPP state policies director further went on to say,"Voters support regulating, taxing, and legalizing cannabis for adult-use, and the Senate should have heeded their call,” O'Keefe said.

Decriminalization States 
According the National Conference of State Legislatures there are twenty-three (23) states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized small amounts of cannabis. States that have decriminalized small amounts of cannabis include:

Alaska (also now with legal provisions)
California (also now with legal provisions)
Colorado (also now with legal provisions)
Maine (also now with legal provisions)
Massachusetts (also now with legal provisions)
Nevada (also now with legal provisions)
New Hampshire
New York
North Carolina
Oregon (also now with legal provisions),
Rhode Island
Vermont (also now with legal provisions)
Washington (also now with legal provisions)
District of Columbia (also now with legal provisions).

Of the states above, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio designate it as a low-level misdemeanor, with no possibility of jail for qualifying offenses. The other states with decriminalization policy have specified small amounts of cannabis as a civil infraction, or the like.

Related articles on getting your New Mexico Medical Cannabis Card: