By Steve Terrell
The New Mexican
While the state Legislature has resisted the idea of legalizing marijuana, more than 60 percent of New Mexicans support legalizing, regulating and taxing the drug, according to results of a statewide poll released Thursday.
Albuquerque pollster Brian Sanderoff said 61 percent of those interviewed support legalization of marijuana for adults 21 or older, including 40 percent who “strongly” support it. Thirty-four percent oppose legalization, he said, including 25 percent who are “strongly” opposed.
“Adults in all five regions of the state support this,” Sanderoff said at a news conference in the Capitol.
“It’s not just ex-hippies in Taos,” said Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, who is sponsoring two separate proposed constitutional amendments that, if approved by voters, would legalize marijuana for those over 21. “It’s not just people who read The Nation in Santa Fe. It’s not just [University of New Mexico] students in Albuquerque.”
While New Mexico is among states that permit legal production and use of marijuana for medical purposes, efforts to legalize other uses of marijuana have gained little traction in the Legislature. Ortiz y Pino said legalizing, regulating and taxing nonmedical use of marijuana by adults — treating it more like the way state law treats alcoholic beverages — could generate an estimated $20 million to $60 million for a state government whose revenues have been sagging lately, partly due to slumping oil and natural gas prices and growth in retail sales via the Internet, which aren’t subject to New Mexico gross receipts taxes.
Ortiz y Pino’s Senate Joint Resolution 5 would earmark new revenue from marijuana taxes for the state’s Medicaid program or drug and alcohol programs. His Senate Joint Resolution 6 would put the revenue into the state’s general fund.
The poll found the greatest level of support — 66 percent — in southwestern New Mexico, including Las Cruces. Support in North-Central New Mexico, including Santa Fe, was 63 percent, the same as in the Albuquerque metropolitan area. In northwestern New Mexico 58 percent expressed support. The region with the lowest level of support, 56 percent, was found in Eastern New Mexico
Support for legalizing marijuana is strongest among men, people under the age of 65, Democrats and independent voters.
“It is interesting to note that nearly half of those who are self-identified conservatives and over two-fifths of Republican voters say they support the proposed legalization bill,” Sanderoff wrote in an executive summary of the survey findings.
Several Western states, including neighboring Colorado, have legalized marijuana for adults by referendum. This year, California has a ballot question about legalization.
New Mexico does not allow citizens to petition for ballot initiatives.
Ortiz y Pino said that he is trying to put the question before voters via a proposed constitutional amendment, partly to avoid an inevitable veto from Gov. Susana Martinez, an avowed marijuana opponent, and because he wants New Mexicans to get the opportunity to vote on the issue in the upcoming general election.
Last year, Ortiz y Pino got a legalization amendment out of the Senate Rules Committee, but it never was heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Despite the high poll numbers, the senator admits he is going to have a hard time getting either of his measures passed. Even if the Senate passes one of the proposed amendments, it would go to the Republican-controlled House.
Last year, a bill to legalize marijuana sponsored by Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, received five committee assignments from Speaker Don Tripp, R-Socorro, which set up stumbling blocks for the bill. It was tabled in its first committee.
McCamley, who spoke at Thursday’s news conference, acknowledged that his House Bill 75 probably won’t even make it that far this year. In the current 30-day session, any nonbudget or nonfinancial bill must receive a message from the governor in order to be considered. He said it is highly unlikely Martinez will allow consideration of his bill.
Both of Ortiz y Pino’s measures also would allow voters to legalize industrial hemp. Last year, the Legislature passed, by wide, bipartisan margins, a bill to allow the cultivation of industrial hemp — which is related to the marijuana plant but with very low levels of intoxicants. However, Martinez vetoed that bill.
A coalition of groups including licensed marijuana producers and the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for liberalized drug laws, commissioned the poll.
Support for the state’s current medical marijuana program also is high — 71 percent — according to the poll.
The new poll shows support for legalizing marijuana has increased over time. A similar survey conducted by Sanderoff in 2013 found 57 percent supported legalization while 37 percent were opposed. Sanderoff said one difference in the two polls is that this year he interviewed “adult New Mexicans” while the responses in 2013 came from likely voters. Likely voters tend to be older than the general population, Sanderoff said, so there is likely to be more opposition to marijuana. But he said he believes that had he included only “likely voters” in the latest poll, support would have fallen only by 1 or 2 percentage points.