Legalization of Marijuana Picks Up Steam While Enforcement Stays the Course in New Mexico

Legalization of marijuana is picking up steam in California. It is expected that there will be enough signatures to get the measure on the ballot in 2010.

Possession of marijuana remains a crime under federal law. Possession of marijuana remains a crime in New Mexico, classified as possession of a controlled substance.

The police in New Mexico continue to make arrests for marijuana. Likewise, they continue to allege intent to distribute for relatively small amounts of marijuana.

All the while the State of New Mexico continues to move forward with its groundbreaking medical marijuana program. There has been a shortage of medical marijuana. There has to date been only one licensed grower and distributor.

There are currently 25 applications for non-profit licenses for the production and distribution of medical marijuana. Seven of these applications have been forwarded to the New Mexico Department of Health Secretary Alfredo Vigil.

There is bound to be a clash between the States of New Mexico and California and the Federal Government. The U.S. Supreme Court also has ruled that federal law enforcement agents have the authority to enforce and prosecute the federal laws against the production, sale and possession of marijuana even against state sanctioned programs.

It is unclear whether the federal government will be able to force the cooperation of state and local governments in these activities. Without the assistance of state and local law enforcement, the federal government would be hard pressed to enforce the federal laws in California, a state of 40 million.

The numbers are telling. In 2008, there were 847,000 marijuana related arrests. Only 6300 of these were made by federal law enforcement, representing less than 1% of the total.

It remains to be seen if New Mexico will follow the lead of California. Or will limit the legal use of marijuana to medical purposes thereby continuing to criminalize a harmless and common activity.

The harm to otherwise law-abiding citizens goes well beyond the criminal penalties, which can be fairly severe in the case of possession of 8 ounces or more, which is classified as a 4th degree felony, and possession with intent to distribute which is at a minimum a 4th degree felony. Conviction can impact not only employment, but education since some convictions carry with the disqualifications for federal student loans or other aid.

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