Las Cruces City Council Hashes Over Potential Effects of Legal Marijuana in NM

Jan 14, 2020


Albuquerque District 6 City Councilor Patrick Davis presents the recommendations from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's marijuana legalization work group to the Las Cruces City Council on Jan. 13, 2020. The governor appointed the work group last summer.
Credit Michael Hernandez

Patrick Davis is a city councilor in Albuquerque.

He also chairs Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s work group appointed to make recommendations for legalizing cannabis in New Mexico.

Davis said the task force came up with four main goals.

“Protecting our medical cannabis program so patients don’t lose their medicine. Ensuring that we have real testing and safety provisions. Taking care of law enforcement to be sure that Las Cruces police and other agencies have the tools they need to deal with DWI. And social issues,” Davis said. "How do we ensure that the people negatively impacted by the war on drugs get to participate in this and can start rebuilding some of the harm that was done in those communities?”

“And so we are going to do something different. By using the revenue for legalized adult-use cannabis, we’ll subsidize medical,” Davis told the City during his presentation.

He added the work group estimates legalizing cannabis would add 11,000 new jobs from farmers to retailers to regulators–making it a top-15 employment sector.

“A lot of that is going to come from southern New Mexico where most of the cannabis going to be produced for cities like Albuquerque and Santa Fe. So, it’s a huge jobs creator. And for local communities it’s going to generate about $50 million in new taxes for public safety, for drug treatment, for prevention and behavioral health programs. It’s a game changer for a lot of communities that are struggling with those issues. We just have to get it right,” Davis said.

“I don’t know, this just seems backwards to me,” Ken Miyagishima said.

The Las Cruces mayor said he opposes legalizing recreational cannabis.

“It’s funny, it’s like a passthrough. Because it sounded like the thrust of this is economic development and money for the cities and all we’re going to do is turn around and give it to our public safety officials so that they can hire more people to take care of the people who are going to be driving under the influence and possibly causing other accidents and such,” Miyagishima said.

For Mayor Pro-Tem Kasandra Gandara, protecting children and families is vital. But she’s also concerned about how to create a level playing field for small businesses seeking to enter the industry.

“For regulatory purposes, I’m very concerned that if we do this, the small business, the smaller person or little person has equal footing to some of these other larger corporations and industry so that we don’t again penalize people of color and, you know, who maybe wants to use this as their springboard into a business. So, those are all things that I’m really concerned about,” Gandara said.

If legalization moves forward in New Mexico, Las Cruces Deputy Police Chief Paul Brock said it will impact the department’s ability to recruit new officers by disqualifying applicants who use marijuana–shrinking the applicant pool.

Brock also cited concerns about increases in youth use and DUIs.

“Motor vehicle crashes related to DUI. New Mexico has historically had a high rate of DUI. Marijuana legalization is likely to aggravate that,” Brock said. “It’s harder to detect than just alcohol. Currently, there’s no breathalyzer equivalent for testing drivers under the influence of narcotics in the state. It requires special training by DRE [Drug Recognition Expert] officers.”

Las Cruces District 4 Councilor Johana Bencomo said she disagrees with the argument made by some opponents that marijuana is a gateway drug. Bencomo cited trauma, instability and untreated mental disorders as factors that contribute to drug overuse.
Credit Michael Hernandez

In response to the potential for increased crime, District 3 Councilor Gabe Vasquez said drug-related crime is already prevalent in the community despite marijuana being illegal. He added the City should focus on addressing underlying social issues.

“I think we need to acknowledge that we do need more resources in our police department for them to do their job effectively. That we need to acknowledge that our social system is probably not adequate to really catch all the families and all the youth who are already facing a perilous future or who have already been in and out of jail and don’t have certain futures. Certainly not economic stability that brings, that lessen dependency on things like drugs and alcohol to deal with life,” Vasquez said. “So, there’s already a lot of social issues that are circulating around us in this city that contribute to those issues that we need to address and that we can’t ignore that marijuana is already in our communities and has been for a long time.”

And while not everyone will agree on how to address issues the City mentioned, Davis said marijuana legalization means money that may otherwise fund drug cartels will instead fund law enforcement, prevention and education programs.

“And that's what we're really working on. Even for those who say they don’t intend to participate in a legal cannabis program, they want our cops to have the tools to go after the people who are abusing it already in our streets, when driving with a DWI,” Davis said. “Cannabis is not inaccessible to anybody in any city in Albuquerque if you really want it. People are using it every day. We just want them to be more responsible and we want to ensure that when you choose to do that, you’re reinvesting in your community and helping others deal with other issues.”

New Mexico’s 30-day legislative session begins Jan. 21.