Pot bill scheduled for hearing

Posted at: 02/26/2013 5:20 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

At the state legislature the debate is heating up over legalizing, or at least decriminalizing, marijuana.

One pot bill is before the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee Tuesday evening. What it would do is simply eliminate any jail time for people who get caught with small amounts of weed. It would be more like a speeding ticket. Possession of an ounce or less - first offense - $50 fine. One to four ounces - $100. Four to eight ounces - misdemeanor and $300 fine. More than eight ounces and you're looking at a fourth degree felony, the same as it is now - up to 18 months in prison.

The bill's sponsor is Rep. Emily Kane, an Albuquerque Democrat who is a firefighter with the city fire department.

"So the person who has a small amount of reefer in their vehicle gets pulled over," Kane said. "They don't have to get put in handcuffs. They can get a ticket and pay a fee and go through a due process. It gives people a chance to keep their lives together."

Meanwhile, other lawmakers are wondering about a big what if - what if the state gets into the pot business, regulating it and taxing it? How many millions are we looking at here? Lawmakers want the state Economic Development Department to study the issue.

"We think the potential is enormous for increasing state funds for things like education, health care, affordable housing, public safety," said Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, an Albuquerque Democrat.

But opposition is strong. Just ask rep. Bill Rehm, an Albuquerque Republican who is a retired Bernalillo County Sheriff's Deputy.

"You go talk to individuals who are using heroin or cocaine - stuff like that," Rehm said. "They all abused marijuana, so absolutely it's a gateway. We start off with marijuana, we advance to other drugs."

So the question is, is New Mexico heading down the same road as Colorado and Washington? Both states approved constitutional amendments that basically legalize weed. Answer - not this year - no proposed amendment in the works. But next year, or the year after, look for such an amendment. In fact, you can bet the ranch on it.

Or at least the pot farm.