Half of Governor Johnson's Drug Reform Package Passes as Brief New Mexico Legislative Session Ends 2/15/02

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Republican Gov. Gary Johnson's effort to enact a comprehensive drug reform package has ended in partial victory. Of the six planks in the outgoing governor's package, three will become law, but medical marijuana and marijuana decrim are not among them. And Johnson's effort to win a "treatment not jail" measure via the legislative process also went down to defeat.

In the special budget session that ended at noon Thursday, the New Mexico legislature approved:

  • Civil asset forfeiture reform. The bill enacted by the legislature will require that a defendant be convicted of a crime before that person's assets are frozen. Proceeds from any assets lawfully forfeited will go to a crime victim fund, with any left over going for drug treatment, prevention and enforcement. Under current law, local law enforcement agencies kept all asset forfeiture proceeds.
  • Reform of sentencing laws to remove some mandatory minimums. The bill passed this week will allow judges to exercise discretion in enhancing sentences for habitual offenders if either the current or at least one of the prior offenses was a drug offense. Under the old law, judges must enhance sentences.
  • Waiver of the ban on federal benefits to drug offenders who have completed their sentences. This bill allows New Mexico to join the 29 other states that have waivers allowing them to grant full federally-funded benefits to people who have completed their sentences for drug offenses.
But a bill that would have decriminalized the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana failed to make it out of a House committee, and a medical marijuana bill that would have made the state responsible for its distribution, was throttled in a Senate committee. Members who last year had supported a similar bill cited the Supreme Court decision in the Oakland Cannabis Co-op case in casting negative votes this year. Sen. Ramsay Gorham (R-North Valley) presented a letter she solicited from DEA administrator Asa Hutchinson, who claimed that the bill would conflict with federal law, and the state Attorney General's Office also suggested the bill would be illegal.

Similarly, the "treatment not jail" bill also died in committee. It would have made first- or second-time drug possession offenses misdemeanors and would have required judges to sentence such offenders to probation. Judges would have had the option to require drug treatment.

The legislature did, however, pass the Corrections Population Control Act, which will set up a commission to study the incarceration of drug offenders currently in prison and determine whether they should continue to be imprisoned.

Thus ends the Johnson drug reform push, but not the effort to change the New Mexico drug laws. Johnson's days as governor are numbered, but the state has adopted five of his original eight reform planks from 2001 (legal syringe sales and immunity for persons prescribing anti-overdose drugs passed last year) and the drug policy reform movement continues to have an active infrastructure in the state.

"The progress made this year will help us to continue making even more progress next year," noted the New Mexico Drug Policy Project (http://www.improvenewmexico.org), a project of Drug Policy Alliance, in a Thursday roundup of the legislative session.

DRCNet will examine whether the New Mexico drug reform glass is half full or half empty in a forthcoming analysis of what went right and what did not in Sante Fe.

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Issue #224, 2/15/02 Feds Raid San Francisco Medical Marijuana Operations, City Officials Join Angry Protests as DEA Head Speaks Same Day | Genesis of the 6th Street Raid: Business as Usual for the DEA, Plus Help from Within | Philippines Proposes Death Sentence for Ecstasy, LSD Possession | Jamaica: Ganja Decrim Goes to Parliament | Half of Governor Johnson's Drug Reform Package Passes as Brief New Mexico Legislative Session Ends | Bolivian Government Signs Agreement With Coca Growers | Flood of Caribbean Drug Mules Overwhelming European Authorities | Marco Pannella Acquitted on Hashish Civil Disobedience Charge | Alerts: HEA, Bolivia, DEA Hemp Ban, SuperBowl Ad, Ecstasy Legislation, Mandatory Minimums, Medical Marijuana, Virginia | The Reformer's Calendar

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