If there’s a lesson to be learned from Prohibition, it’s this: Legally or illegally, Americans will always find a way to get loaded. Nevertheless, lawmakers keep trying to ban new drugs as quickly as substance users discover them. Here are some proposals under debate in the ’09 regular Legislature.
HB 36: Prohibit Certain Alcoholic Beverage Sales
Sponsor: Rep. Ray Begaye, D-San Juan
What it does: Bans the sale of “flavored malt beverages” that include stimulants such as caffeine, carnitine, guarana, ginseng or taurine.
Origin: Begaye says the Attorney General’s Office presented the measure during the Health and Human Services Committee meetings over the summer. Begaye picked it up due to local problems among Native American youth around Shiprock.
“When I go to the parks or when I go by the river or when I go to functions, like basketball games or soccer games, or if I go shopping, I always see these empty cans,” Begaye says. “They look like energy drinks, but they are actually fortified, high-alcohol content beer.”
Begaye says at least two teenagers have overdosed on the drinks—a dangerous cocktail of stimulants and depressants when combined with diabetes or obesity—at the Northern Navajo Medical Center.
Opposition: Rep. Al Park, D-Bernalillo, joined Republicans in opposing the bill in the Consumer and Public Affairs Committee. He’s worried the ban would next extend to Red Bull and vodka, then rum and coke.
“I continue to have some questions, but I’ll probably vote for it,” Park now tells SFR.
Liquor and beer distributors have an interest in blocking the legislation. “They asked me to lay the bill down,” Begaye says. “But I said if it’s moving, I’ll continue to move it forward.”
Current Location: House Business & Industry Committee
HB 144: Salvia Divinorum as a Controlled Substance
Sponsor: Rep. Keith Gardner, R-Chavez
What it does: Adds the herb Salvia divinorum and its psychotropic agent Salvinorin A to the list of banned drugs in New Mexico’s Controlled Substances Act.
Origin: Gardner says the Roswell Police Department approached him with the measure, claiming that children and adults are abusing salvia, a form of sage with potent hallucinogenic qualities. Gardner says all the evidence he needs of the drug’s dangerous potential is available on YouTube. “They’re dramatic as hell—you gotta watch ’em,” Gardner says. “At first I thought, ‘This is just somebody pretending.’ It’s amazing how powerful this drug is. And remember there’s no regulation on how this drug gets sold.”
Opposition: The Santa Fe head shop Concrete Jungle sells salvia extract for as little as $15 per vial, which comes with two pages of dosage instruction. Employee Sarah Chavez says the powerful herb, which is used in some South American religious rituals, isn’t popular among youth.
“They want to do it right away to the extreme, instead of gently working their way into it, so a lot of them end up having really bad trips and they’ll never do it again,” Chavez says. “The older generation, I think, uses it more as a spiritual awakening.”
Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico Director Reena Szczepanski tells SFR the herb is not widely abused or addictive.
“To make it a controlled substance based on the very limited medical data that’s available right now just seems like a knee-jerk response,” she says.
Current Location: House Consumer & Public Affairs Committee
SB 111: Consumption of Controlled Substance Crime
Sponsor: Sen. Steven Neville, R-San Juan
What it does: Creates a new petty misdemeanor, “consumption of controlled substance,” based on a positive return from a blood or urine test.
Origin: San Juan County is arguably the meth capital of New Mexico, Neville tells SFR.
“Law enforcement are stymied by the fact that many times they find—maybe at a rave party—people who are passed out on the lawn that clearly have a meth problem,” Neville says. “They’ve got all the symptoms, but they didn’t commit a crime; they’re just passed out and don’t have the drug in their pocket. What do you do? You send them home.”
Under existing law, a judge cannot assign an offender to a drug treatment program unless the offender is busted directly on drug charges, such as possession.
Opposition: “We strongly oppose that bill,” Szczepanski says. “My understanding is that the intention of the sponsor is very good; he really wants to get more people into substance abuse treatment…But [the measure] is expensive and it’s not effective.”
Neville freely admits the bill needs some tweaking. As it stands now, a student who smokes a joint in Amsterdam on holiday could be busted 30 days later from the residual THC in his bloodstream. Employers would be able to report employees to law enforcement who come up positive for drugs.
“There would have to be some kind of test that shows you’re under the influence of the drug, and we would have to have some regulation if this ever passed,” Neville says.
Current Location: Senate Public Affairs Committee
Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico’s mission is to reduce the harm caused not only by substance abuse, but to undo the harm caused by ineffective drug policies.
“We usually pass most of our agenda,” Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico Director Reena Szczepanski tells SFR. This year, however, she predicts a struggle with some of the bills the group is supporting.
HB 441 Substance Abuse & Crime Prevention Act
Sponsored by Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Bernalillo, the bill would allow judges to send drug offenders to treatment programs rather than jail or prison. Offenders who complete the program would avoid a felony conviction.
“We’ve been working on legislation of this kind for eight years,” Szczepanski says. “We get a lot of opposition from the district attorneys and it doesn’t seem like we can ever come to an agreement.”
Current Location: House Judiciary Committee
HB 428 Prohibition of Profiling Practices Act
The bill to ban racial profiling by Rep. Nathan P Cote, D-Doña Ana, emerged victorious from the Consumer & Public Affairs Committee after facing heavy opposition from law enforcement agencies.
“For us, that’s actually where the racial disparities in drug arrests, drug convictions, drug sentencing, all of that begins—with the actual stop,” Szczepanski says.
Current Location: House Judiciary Committee
Senate Memorial on Drug Policy Task Force
As of deadline, Sen. Bernadette Sanchez, D-Bernalillo, was in the process of introducing this Senate memorial on behalf of the DPA to create a state task force to broadly evaluate New Mexico’s overall drug policy.
“Everybody who works on substance abuse, we all tend to work in our little silo,” Szczepanski says. “There isn’t a group right now in this state that brings all those entities together…Especially with the economic crisis, this is a really good time to take a hard look at what we’re doing, what we’re spending and how we can realign that to get better results.”
Current location: Check back for an update when the bill is assigned a number and committee.