Bolstered by what they saw as positive results from a survey that included 400 random phone calls to adult residents in New Mexico, a pair of Democratic legislators insisted Thursday that the legalization of recreational marijuana would be a slam dunk if the issue were ever put before the voters or passed both chambers in the form of a law.
Not only that but marijuana, which is mostly distributed in the streets and in the back alleys, would be taxed and regulated, generating yearly revenues between $20 million and $60 million, depending on the tax rate and consumer demand, according to state Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, and House Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, who outlined their vastly different legislative approaches in the Roundhouse.
McCamley wants to introduce HB 75, a cross strain of laws that currently make pot legal for recreational purposes in Colorado and Oregon, while Ortiz y Pino hopes to bring the subject before the state's voters in the form of a constitutional amendment in November's general election in a state where its current medical marijuana law received 71 percent support among those polled, the survey said.
While both their plans now face an uphill battle in the House, with two weeks to go in the 30-day session, both peddled a recent survey, conducted by Brian Sanderoff of Research and Polling Inc., in which 61 percent of those surveyed supported the legalization of marijuana, while 31 percent opposed it.
The sampling, which was conducted over a six-day period between Jan. 8 and Jan. 13, further revealed that when residents were informed that there would be restrictions on where the marijuana would be grown, consumed and purchased, and that its revenues would help pay for education, law enforcement and Medicaid, the support went up to 69 percent, with 28 percent in opposition.
The last time a similar survey was conducted, in 2013, the support to legalize the drug came in at 52 percent, but Sanderoff pointed out that it was part of an overall registered voter poll and didn't solely focus on the concept of legalization.
"It's not just ex-hippies in Taos," Ortiz y Pino said, in opening up the press conference. "People in every part of the state are for it."
And that includes the eastern part of the state, which is traditionally conservative and where 58 percent of those queried were in favor of it, in places like Deming and Lordsburg.
Perhaps most eye opening is that 51 percent of the responders said they tried weed at least once in their lives (quite possibly a low-ball number, if you assume that at least some of the respondents didn't want to admit that they had used it in a phone interview).
In general, the poll found that 73 percent of men supported the legalization, compared with 66 percent of women, and that 74 percent of the Hispanics backed the idea, with 64 percent of the Anglos concurring.
Overwhelmingly, 86 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 34 were totally down for going to a future pot dispensary, and 49 percent of senior citizens had no problem with it.
But the Republican-controlled House does, and therein lies the rub, which had Emily Kaltenbach, with the Drug Policy Alliance, exhorting and deferring to what amounts to a windfall in Colorado, of which recreational marijuana partially played a part, with 70 million visitors last year and a $18 billion net in tourism dollars.
Marijuana arrests there have plummeted, Kaltenbach said, and last year, the state raised $125 million in tax revenues from the legalization.
"All eyes have been on Colorado," she said, adding that the prophecy of destruction by the naysayers never played out as a result of its legalization a few years ago.
If New Mexico were to ever legalize pot, sooner rather than later, it would join Oregon, Colorado, Alaska and Washington DC.
But now both measures have to pass the House and the Senate, and while Ortiz y Pino says that he believes that the survey may sway the House, and he fully expects the Senate to get on board, he explains that he needs a majority before it can be sent to the voters.
"But the governor," he says, "can't veto it."
As for McCamley, he perhaps faces more of a struggle, which he witnessed last year when he introduced similar legislation; when asked by a reporter about that "gruesome death," he joked, "Gruesome? It was quick."
Interestingly enough, if the constitutional amendment passed both chambers and it went before the state's voters, it could drive up voter registration, noted McCamley, who says part of his district lies within the boundaries of New Mexico State University, and he thought it time to start listening to what the young people of the state want.
Waiting in the wings, however, are the Republicans, who, generally speaking, are following in lockstep with Martinez and her crime-and-punishment policies, and while Ortiz y Pino said that quite a few Republicans have told him that it's only a matter of time before pot is legalized, they still aren't ready to vote for it just yet.
"Let's not be the 49th state to do so," Ortiz y Pino said, jokingly referring to the state's ranking in education in the nation and all the buzz lately, followed by childhood poverty, which tops the nation. "Let's be the sixth, the seventh or the eighth."