Legislative Actions

NM Legalized Weed For Money, Not Well-Being

Photo by Jeff W 

I’ve never met someone who was smarter high.

In reading between the lines of the state’s sudden urgency to legalize recreational marijuana, making people smarter isn’t on the list.

One can assume the motivation wasn’t based on health reasons, since medical marijuana is already legal in New Mexico and the correlation between marijuana use and depression is well known.

Which leaves criminal justice reform and revenue.

Decriminalization is a noble goal. Nobody should go to jail for possession of a joint. But then, prior to the state passing this bill, virtually nobody did (the penalty for possession of up to a half an ounce of marijuana was a $50 fine).

We like to pretend that the “War on Drugs” has filled America’s prisons with nonviolent drug offenders. The best example is Florida resident Richard DeLisi, “America’s longest serving nonviolent cannabis offender.” DeLisi was jailed in 1989 for crimes that were indeed “nonviolent,” but federal racketeering, trafficking, and conspiracy aren’t quite petty possession, and marijuana is still illegal on the federal level (a good reminder for everybody at Sandia Labs with a security clearance). 

Of the fraction of offenders who are in jail for simple drug possession, many plea-bargained, accepting lower-level drug charges to avoid more severe charges carrying harsher sentences.

That’s no longer an option.

While decriminalization will likely reduce the number of marijuana-related court cases, consider the second-order effects: If offenders arrested for more serious crimes now have fewer opportunities to plea down, might legalization end up creating longer jail sentences for drug offenses?

Which gets us to revenue.

New Mexico’s new law plants the state square in the middle of the cannabis business, and we’re in it for the money.

Half of the state’s oil production occurs on federal land and a third of the budget comes from oil and gas revenue.

With the Biden Administration gutting the oil and gas industry and vowing to slash greenhouse emissions by 50% in a decade, New Mexico is scrambling.

Only time will tell if marijuana becomes the “stable source of revenue” lawmakers hope, but as weed taxes increase and more people grow their own (also now legal), that may not be the case.

Even states that benefit from marijuana taxes aren’t rolling in cash. Massachusetts reportedly made $122 million in two years since legalizing cannabis. Their population is triple New Mexico’s. 

Nevada generated $100 million in tax revenue last year, but they benefit from a 50% higher population and a tourism industry that’s eight times New Mexico’s.

Furthermore, a successful legal market requires a diminished black market, and if weed taxes continue to climb (as planned), tax revenue will fall without suppression of the black market, which means the state will have to crack down on trafficking if it wants to meet its revenue projections. It’s a catch-22.

New Mexico has a crime problem. It has an education problem that never seems to improve no matter how much money we throw at it. We have an industry problem. But we don’t have a possession of pot problem.

At least we didn’t before.

I’ve never met someone who was smarter high. Maybe our state legislators will prove me wrong.