Deana Chefchis

Got Pot?

As New Mexico prepares of recreational Marijuana, we debate the merits

February 17, 2021

Recreational Marijuana? No!

With the New Mexico legislative session for 2021 in progress, we can expect bills on many hotly debated topics such as abortion rights, state finances, and education issues. Along with these issues, the legislature is also on track to discuss the recreational usage of cannabis. With general support from the Democrats and opposition from the Republicans, the legalization of marijuana has been in the works for a long time.
While some might be upset and others glad, lawmakers are expecting to see many legalization bills in New Mexico in 2021, as well as across the whole country, whether or not we like them. With the rejected bill from last year’s session, Michelle Lujan Grisham, a strong advocate for reform, is prioritizing the legalization of recreational cannabis. Considering this and the fact that most of her influential opponents in the Round House were defeated in the 2020 primary election, the odds for the bill making it to the Senate floor are good. There are always pros and cons to weigh, however, and with the legalization of recreational marijuana, both sides have valid concerns. We have to keep in mind that with certain approvals come certain consequences.
Firstly, marijuana is highly addictive and appeals to teenagers everywhere. It is expected that teen use of marijuana will increase with legalization, with dangerous effects. Teenagers under the age of 18 are 4 to 7 times more likely to develop a use disorder than adults. Adolescents, ranging in age from twelve to seventeen, who live in states that have legalized marijuana use the drug more frequently than the national average. 16.21% of Colorado teens and 18.86% of teens in Alaska reported marijuana use in the past year, compared to an average of 12.29% for the United States overall in 2015-2016.
Marijuana takes a toll on young, undeveloped brains. The American Academy of Pediatrics says the negative effects of teen marijuana use include short-term memory loss, decreased concentration, a decline in attention span and a harder time problem solving, which clearly interfere with learning. Along with this, cannabis is said to influence the loss of IQ points, which are important for young people just starting their adult lives to have. Additionally, marijuana use can lead to harder drugs. A study in 2015 analyzed a group of lifetime cannabis users and concluded that 50% went to take other “illicit” drugs. Considering the high usage in young people, this fact is alarming.
Increased usage of marijuana, expected after legalization, will cause an increase in traffic and road-related deaths. Marijuana-related traffic deaths rose 62% following the legalization of marijuana in Colorado. Not only would this affect the lives of those particular marijuana users, but it would also take a toll on many other people who would be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Fatal crashes on the road in Washington almost doubled after the legalization of recreational cannabis.
In addition to the negative effects on the public’s health, this issue will also lead to increased costs for taxpayers that outweigh its revenues. The socioeconomic costs of marijuana use include billing uninsured patients for additional emergency room stays, hospital insurance, and addiction treatment for the uninsured. Money raised from marijunana taxes accounts for less than 1% of a state’s tax revenue. The concern that is raised here is whether marijuana is just going to be yet another harmful substance that costs more than the profit it makes.
While there are many benefits to legalizing recreational marijuana, there are also the after-effects that we have to consider. Being linked to the deterioration of lung health, heart health, brain health, and mental health, marijuana, although considered to be the “safest” drug, isn’t safe at all. Despite this, its legalization in New Mexico looks like it will be achieved in the near future, and legalization is becoming a reality in various other states nationwide. Law enforcement officials, local governors, and addiction treatment specialists are most likely going to be affected by this shift and it is important, now more than ever, for them to be working together to ensure that communities are free of addiction and its debilitating social, physical, and financial impacts.


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Recreation Marijuana? Yes!

There is little legislation more important for the upcoming New Mexican judicial session than the legalization of marijauna. Although New Mexico has laws permitting those with underlying conditions to use the medicinal drug, its current laws prohibit recreational use. In 1978, New Mexico became the first state to sign legislation that legalized medical use of marijuana. In 2007, the law was altered with the addition of the Medical Cannabis Program, which allowed possession of cannabis if referred by a physician. In 2018, Albuquerque decriminalized the possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana, making the offense a $25 fine. Most recently, Governor Lujan Grisham signed SB323 into law, decriminalizing first time possession for adults with a a $50 fine. The government has now decreed a promise to prioritize legalization of recreational use. With the prospect of amnesty closer than ever, New Mexico will soon reap the benefits of legalization.

Amidst economic disaster caused by Covid-19, legalization of marijauna is key to recovery for three reasons.  The first is through alleviating unnecessary costs. Nationally, the costs associated with the enforcement of marijuana laws are over 14 billion dollars each year—stripping billions from the economy. Second, the criminal records that follow an arrest made for marijuana possession limit job prospects for the victims of the ban. The lost wages that result once again harm the economy. Perhaps most crucially, the implementation of a weed tax could raise millions of dollars for state infrastructure and programs. Colorado, a state that has already legalized marijuana, has seen a large surplus from their tax, increasing investments in public health services, education and other initiatives. Our neighbor to the north  has also seen 10,000 new jobs as a result of the legislation. But looking past the economy, ending the marijauna ban is imperative considering its racist past. Although statistically black and brown Americans use the drug at the same rates as white Americans, they are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for possession. The unjust legacy of these laws hurts hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans every year, perpetuating institutionalized racism in our lowest-income communities. Past records from marijuana offenses are often used for predictive policing, a form of law enforcement that uses pre-existing crime data to target suspects. The flaw in these supposedly technologically advanced systems lies in their targets. Overpolicing in black and brown communities focuses attention on the marijauna arrests in these neighbourhoods, perpetuating a cycle of racism formed by surveillance and arrests. The fight to legalize marijauna goes further than the tangible effects of the ban on our economy—it is an issue of racial justice. The legalization of marijauna is a step towards a better economically prosperous and equitable New Mexico.

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