Santa Fe, NM: The current "war on drugs" is a failure and current drug
laws should focus on prevention, as opposed to incarceration. That was
the conclusion of New Mexico's Drug Policy Advisory Group as they
presented their findings to Governor Gary Johnson today.
The advisory group, appointed by the governor last May, called for the
end of criminal sanctions for the possession of less than an ounce of
marijuana by anyone over 18 years old. Those who smoke marijuana in
public would still face a civil fine.
The advisory group explained in the report, "Having reviewed carefully
the information available on marijuana and its effects, and having heard
from various representatives of law enforcement, corrections and the
courts, we believe that taking this step will result in greater
availability of resources to respond to more serious crimes without any
increased risks to public safety."
The committee also endorsed the medical use of marijuana, by seriously
ill patients, and recommended the legislature revise the "Lynn Pierson
Act," a long dormant New Mexico medical marijuana law originally enacted
in 1978 that allowed for the medical use of marijuana in research
settings. "We recommend that the Lynn Pierson Act be amended to allow
physicians to recommend and patients to access medical marijuana when
medically appropriate, and to allow for a registry of patients who are
approved for this treatment and their caregivers," wrote the committee.
"We applaud the advisory group for their two specific recommendations
regarding marijuana policy," said Keith Stroup, NORML Executive Director.
"First, they recognize the importance of permitting the medical use of
marijuana. Nine states currently permit seriously ill patients to use
marijuana if their physician recommends it to relieve pain and suffering.
It would be unconscionable to continue to deny an effective medication to
those who need it."
Stroup continued, "Second, The Governor's Drug Policy Advisory Group
joins a long list of prestigious commissions and study groups that have
reached the conclusion that we should stop arresting responsible
marijuana smokers, including the National Commission on Marijuana Use and
Drug Abuse (the Shaffer Commission) (1972) in this country, the LeDain
Commission (1972) in Canada and the Wooten Report (1968) in England.
Millions of mainstream, middle-class Americans smoke marijuana, and most
of them are good citizens who work hard, raise families and contribute to
their communities. It's time we stropped treating them like criminals."
Throughout the report the advisory group denounced the current methods
of drug education and the plethora of false information disseminated by
federal agencies that help perpetuate the failed "war on drugs."
"We would like to emphasize an overriding concern that surfaced
repeatedly as we examined the information available on these topics,"
wrote Advisory Committee Chair Woody Smith, a retired state judge, in a
transmittal letter to the governor. "In our society today, much of our
drug policy is based on misleading and even patently false information
about illegal drugs, the physical and psychological effects of illegal
drugs and the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of current drug policies.
Even more disturbing, the advisory group determined that false
information frequently comes from sources that we expect to be reliable,
including our own federal government. When incorrect information is
accepted as true and policies are based upon that false information, the
resulting harm experienced by those who suffer from drug addiction and
their families, by criminal justice agencies, and by the public is great."
"We believe that it is our ethical imperative to reject false data and
misleading information no matter what the source, and to increase the
availability of accurate and meaningful information to all New Mexicans
and policy makers."
The committee further recommended amending existing criminal statutes to
reduce first and second drug possession offenses to misdemeanors with
automatic probation and substance abuse treatment rather than jail time;
and the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders.
The report said, "New Mexico should begin immediately to place first
priority on enforcement of laws prohibiting violent crimes, followed by
enforcement of laws prohibiting property crimes. When law enforcement
officers are given the impossible task of stopping all drug use and all
drug buying and selling, they are less able to enforce laws intended to
protect communities from crimes such as assault, rape and murder. A
reallocation of resources that prioritizes prevention, investigation and
enforcement of these violent crimes over drug crimes would better serve
and protect the citizens of New Mexico, would improve morale within the
ranks of law enforcement and would increase public support and respect
for the hard work that law enforcement, courts and correctional officers
do every day."
The implementation of effective prevention and science-based drug
education; effective treatment programs covered by Medicaid; and harm
reduction policies and programs were also recommended by the committee.
"This is a thoughtful report which makes a convincing case for a harm
reduction approach that relies on education, prevention and treatment
over prison and other punitive approaches," Stroup said. "They have
provided a useful blueprint for a more effective and humane drug policy
for the state. It's now time for the New Mexico legislature to move
forward with a review and overhaul of their marijuana laws."
For more information please contact Keith Stroup, NORML Executive
Director at (202) 483-5500.

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