New Mexico’s Elevated Support For Marijuana Legalization Could Color State a Deeper Shade of Blue

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While New Mexico’s gubernatorial candidates debated the pros and cons of legalization last week, a poll published Sept. 21, 2018, shows how liberal Democrats may cash in on a green wave of support in November.

The poll conducted by Research and Polling Inc. found that a majority of New Mexico voters support legislation to legalize recreational marijuana by a 2-to-1 ratio, according to the Albuquerque Journal. The survey shows that 60 percent of voters would support legislation to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana sales to adults 21 and older, while 32 percent said they were opposed. The remainder of those surveyed had “mixed feelings” or didn’t know.

The poll also found that 74 percent of those who support legalization were Democrats. A majority of Republicans, 53 percent, opposed legalization, while support was roughly 40 percent.

While this was intriguing news for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has voiced her tentative support for legalizing adult-use marijuana, the poll results appear to be slightly more problematic for the Republican candidate, U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce. For Pearce, who represents New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District in Washington, D.C., and who opposes legalization, he maintains it would create yet another obstacle for those citizens working to overcome poverty.

“I do not see how putting one more obstacle in front of people helps them get out of poverty and get back on their feet, so I’ve never been supportive of legalizing recreational marijuana,” Pearce said during aSept. 19, 2018, debate hosted by Albuquerque CBS and Fox affiliate KRQE-TV.

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Although several proposals to legalize and tax recreational marijuana have repeatedly failed to make it through the New Mexico Legislature, Lujan Grisham said she would be “inclined to sign” responsible legislation that effectively addresses her four points of concern: the protection of New Mexico’s current medical marijuana program, workplace safety, underage consumption, and properly regulated edibles. Lujan Grisham supported her position by emphasizing the potential to bring “hundreds of millions of dollars to New Mexico’s economy.”

New Mexico is considered a “swing state” headed into the 2018 midterm election — FiveThirtyEight reported that Grisham has a seven point lead over Pearce as of Sept. 13, 2018.

The state’s House of Representatives comprises 38 Democrats and 32 Republicans, while the political composition in the Senate is 26 Democrats to 16 Republicans. Although the Democrats hold a majority in both legislative chambers, some conservative Democrats have voted with Republicans to stop legalization proposals in the past.

In December 2017, Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino introduced Senate Joint Resolution 4 (SJR 4), an amendment that would have legalized the possession and use of marijuana by individuals 21 and older. Democratic state Sens. Linda Lopez, Ortiz y Pino, Daniel Ivey-Soto and Jeff Steinborn all voted in favor of the resolution, while Democratic state Sen. Mary Kay Papen voted against SJR 4 with Republican state Sens. Mark Moores and Cliff Pirtle.

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But with no recreational marijuana initiative on the 2018 ballot, Lujan Grisham’s support for passing responsible legislation to legalize adult use may be one of the few issues motivating the electorate — aside from resisting President Donald Trump — to swing the purple state to a nice shade of bluish-green.

Pearce was give a ‘D’ grade by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) for his past marijuana votes in the U.S. House. In addition to voting against the Veterans Equal Access Amendment in 2015 and 2016, Pearce also voted against legislation that would have prohibited the Department of Justice from interfering with states that have allowed marijuana use.

Although during the debate neither candidate admitted to ever smoking marijuana, Lujan Grisham did vote for the 2015-2016 Veterans Equal Access Act (HR 667), the 2015 McClintock-Polis Amendment to the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriation bill, and the 2015 Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment to the fiscal year 2016 spending bill. As for medical marijuana, Lujan Grisham served as Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson’s health secretary and was instrumental in establishing the state’s program.

With a little more than 40 days to go before the 2018 midterm elections, it is a possibility that the situation may turn grim for New Mexico officials who voted no on legalization — regardless of party affiliation. As the state seeks to increase revenue for higher education, improve civil liberties, and generate new economic growth, the legalization of recreational marijuana could provide a boon in tax revenue, the decriminalization and potential expungement of cannabis offenses, and job creation through a newly created recreational cannabis industry to address some of the voters’ biggest concerns this November.

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