By Marisa Demarco
— The Roundhouse is not insulated from the happenings beyond its walls. In this week’s legislative update, we see regional issues seeping in. Lawmakers are contending with: marijuana, an online prostitution ring and the ongoing firearm debate.
Hot on the heels of our neighbor to the North, legislators are considering a memorial that touches on the legalization of cannabis. The measure calls for a study on the economic impact of taxing legal marijuana.
Because it’s a joint memorial (yes, it’s really called a joint memorial) and not a bill, it wouldn’t have to get Gov. Susana Martinez’ approval. SJM 31 is sponsored by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, who—disclaimer—is a Compass columnist.
In November, Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana. As those results rolled in, Libertarian presidential candidate and ex-N.M. Gov. Gary Johnson cheered the news from his watch party. He said those two states would impact drug policy worldwide in the long run. Pollster Brian Sanderoff suggested the issue would divide the Legislature but could wind up coming before New Mexico voters.
Emily Kaltenbach is the director of the state’s chapter of the Drug Policy Alliance. She said the safe regulation of cannabis would help reduce crime on both sides of the border: “It is time to study how wasteful New Mexico’s punitive marijuana laws are and how they continue to sustain a massive, increasingly violent underground economy.” The laws are going to change, she said in a statement, whether it’s politicians who change them—or fed-up voters.
In a USA Today / Gallup poll from December, 63 percent of respondents said the feds shouldn’t interfere when states vote to legalize marijuana.
The New Mexico Drug Policy Alliance is also working with state Rep. Emily Kane (D-Albuquerque) on a bill that would reduce penalties for possessing less than 4 ounces of marijuana. The crime would incur only a civil penalty. There would also be no jail time for possession of as much as 8 ounces. In 2010, there were 3,277 possession arrests in New Mexico, according to the Marijuana Arrest Research Program.
The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday, Feb. 6, that a website is not a house of prostitution under today’s state law. The decision kicks the issue back to the Legislature.
Former University of New Mexico President F. Chris Garcia was arrested in 2011 in connection with Southwest Companions, an online prostitution ring. A year later, a state judge ruled websites, message boards and computers could not be considered “a place where prostitution is practiced, encouraged or allowed.”
That forced the prosecution to either change the charges against the professor or take it to the state’s high court. Gov. Martinez said after the ruling in June that she would ask legislators to modernize New Mexico’s statutes so law enforcement can keep up.
Rep. Tim Lewis (R-Rio Rancho), introduced a measure this session that includes Internet activity as a form of promoting prostitution. The bill specifies “electronic, virtual or online” forums or websites. If the law passes, it won’t affect the Southwest Companions case.
Lewis also sponsored a piece of legislation increasing the penalties for pimps and johns. The representative is the brother of Albuquerque City Councilor Dan Lewis, who co-sponsored an ordinance imposing stricter regulations on strip clubs in the Duke City. The councilor said the measure was aimed at combating sex trafficking and exploitation.
Guns and Booze
Rep. Zach Cook (R-Ruidoso) put up a bill that allows concealed weapons into restaurants that serve liquor. The measure initially included full-service bars but was amended. As state law stands today, anyone carrying a concealed weapon is not allowed to drink, use controlled substances or be impaired by over-the-counter drugs. That wouldn’t change with this legislation.
Cook’s measure made it through the House Business and Industry Committee.
Carol Wight, CEO of the New Mexico Restaurant Association, said in an interview that it puts too much of a burden on servers and business owners. “Servers are already being held responsible for making sure people don’t get drunk, or young people don’t drink,” she said. Should it also be the responsibility of a restaurant owner or server to make sure someone is carrying a concealed weapon legally? she asked. Or to ensure that if a patron is carrying a concealed gun, he or she doesn’t drink?
The bill indicates restaurants would be allowed to post signs saying guns are not allowed on the premises, which is already a part of state law.
Finally, Wight says, there’s probably a reason previous lawmakers instituted the ban on guns in establishments that serve alcohol in the first place. “We don’t believe it’s best to have firearms near liquor.”
* This article originally appeared on Page 5 of Local iQ. Look for Compass reports there in every edition through the end of the legislative session.