50 States

50 States: New Mexico

By David Jenison 

50 States: New Mexico

Medical: Yes
Recreational: No
Decriminalized: Yes

The year is 1978. Jimmy Carter is in the White House, Up in Smoke is in the theaters, the BeeGees are on the radio and James Franco is born a day early (April 19). It is also a pivotal year for medical cannabis in the state of New Mexico. Lynn Pierson, a 26-year-old cancer patient, had aggressively petitioned the state to legalize medical use, and after overwhelming support in the legislature, the governor signed the Lynn Pierson Marijuana Treatment & Research Act. In the age cannabis prohibition, New Mexico was the first state to legalize medical use. According to an efficacy study published by the state in 1983, more than 90 percent of the patients inhaling cannabis demonstrated positive health improvements, but the renewed War on Drugs motivated lawmakers to defund the program in 1986.

Nearly three decades after the original bill passed, medical cannabis made a comeback. In 2007, Governor Bill Richardson signed the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, making New Mexico the 12th state (on the current run) to legalize medical cannabis. In addition to honoring Lynn Pierson, the name of the bill pays tribute to Erin Armstrong, a thyroid cancer patient who spent three years lobbying for the legislation. The New Mexico Department of Health lists 20 qualifying conditions for medical cannabis, which include intractable nausea/vomiting, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and glaucoma, among others. Individuals can also petition the Medical Advisory Board to add additional health conditions to the list. According to Health Department figures (as of June 2015), the three conditions to receive the most cannabis treatments were post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain and cancer.

Outside the medical arena, New Mexico is allowing each city to decide for itself on decriminalization, and Santa Fe became the first city to decriminalize in August 2014. Individuals caught with less than an ounce will now receive a citation only inSanta Fe. Likewise, in two different cases (2014 and 2015), the New Mexico Court of Appeals reaffirmed that medical cannabis can qualify as a reasonable and necessary treatment for a workplace injury, and as such, it should be covered by worker’s compensation. New Mexico is among a small handful of states to reaffirm worker’s comp benefits for medically necessary cannabis.

What’s next? New Mexico borders Colorado, and many state residents head to Pueblo and other Centennial State cities to acquire cannabis. The need for such road trips might soon change. In February 2015, a legislative committee narrowly voted in favor of legal adult recreational use, which set in motion the process to put the issue on the 2016 ballot. State residents will have the chance to vote on the matter, and a 2013 survey by Research and Polling found that 52 percent of registered voters in New Mexico supported cannabis legalization for adults. Of course, this poll took place before the state saw the Colorado treasury net nearly $40 million in tax revenue during the first 10 months of legalization. Support has likely increased since then.

UPDATE: In a statewide poll released January 28, 2016, support for recreational cannabis reached a new high. Per the data, 61 percent of the state favor legal recreational cannabis, and 40 percent "strongly" favor it. By contrast, 34 percent oppose legalization. The New Mexico-based pollster who collected the data stated, "Adults in all five regions of the state support [legalization]." When two out of three citizens support something, that's called the democratic will of the people. Are we not a democracy? 

Photo credit: Unsplash.


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