By Emily Kaltenbach
February 18th marked the end of New Mexico’s 2016 legislative session. It also marked the end of 30-days of regressive anti-crime policy introduction driven by Governor Susana Martinez. Martinez vowed to make 2016 the year of “public safety,” advocating for the expansion of the State’s three-strikes law, mandatory-minimum sentencing measures, taking away driver’s licenses for people who are undocumented, and a teen curfew measure. Gov. Martinez went so far as to say, “We have vicious, heinous criminals among us. We see teens terrorizing neighborhoods late at night…. It’s our job to fix it, and there’s a lot we can do.”
Since her election, the Governor has proven she is behind the curve of history and stuck in the anti-crime and drug war hysteria of decades past. Martinez, a Republican and former prosecutor, took office in 2011. Around this same time an important policy and political shift was occurring in many parts on the U.S.. as more conservative politicians and leaders came out in support of criminal justice reforms.
But despite the otherwise tough-on-crime legislative session in New Mexico, drug policy reform efforts made headway, while the bills, that would have increased criminal penalties, put increased financial burden on taxpayers, and devastated families, failed to advance. Here are some of the bright spots in an otherwise dark legislative session:
A bill to expand access to naloxone (opiate overdose reversal drug) sailed through the legislature with unanimous support and now sits on the Governor’s desk for signature. The bill, if signed, will make it easier for community organizations, jails, treatment programs, and first responders to distribute naloxone under a standing order. It also provides legal protection to laypeople to encourage administration of naloxone in overdose situations where every second counts. (In 2014, New Mexico’s drug overdose death rate was nearly double that of the national rate.)
A Constitutional Amendment to tax and regulate marijuana made it to the Senate floor. Although the votes were not there to pass the Amendment, the goal was to have a public debate on the issue. The Senate vote made history, being the first time legalization was considered by the full Senate, and the general tenure of the debate was not “if”, but “when.” (61% of New Mexicans support legalizing marijuana.)
One of the most encouraging actions by Governor Martinez was the signing into law a far-reaching asset forfeiture reform in 2015. The law was de-signed to end the unfair practice of “policing for profit”. For decades civil asset forfeiture practices have robbed innocent people, taking money right out of their wallets—or even taking their home and their car—without even charging them with a crime. Since the new law went into effect law enforcement has organized, pressuring lawmakers to repeal the law. Even though a repeal bill was introduced this year, law enforcement failed to get the Governor to issue a message on the bill. Without the message, the bill languished in its first committee.
Despite the Governor’s campaign pledge to take down the medical cannabis program, the program continues to grow in strength and numbers with over 20,000 participating in the program. Unfortunately, bills were introduced that would have prohibited workers’ compensation insurers from having to reimburse injured workers for the cost of medical cannabis. Thanks to the voices of patients and compassionate advocates these measures died. The silver lining was that the bills created space for an emerging conversation about use of medical cannabis in place of many other prescription drugs and that cannabis is a tool that can reduce dependence on opioids to manage pain.
So, even if Governor Martinez continues to diverge from many of her Republican colleagues on criminal justice reform, it is still possible to advance drug policies that are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.
Emily Kaltenbach is a senior director at the Drug Policy Alliance.
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Author: Emily Kaltenbach
Date Published: February 25, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance
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