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The government has no right to tell me what I can eat, drink, smoke, snort or inject.
It can prevent me from doing those things in public. And it can hold me responsible for any crimes I commit after having done those things, including while driving. But that’s all.
Not only does the government lack the right to prevent me from eating, drinking, smoking, snorting or injecting anything I want, it also lacks the ability. Desperate attempts to disprove that reality through mass incarceration have only served to highlight the deeply ingrained injustices in our court system based on race and class. We filled our jails and prisons, but people kept getting high.
Ninety years after government leaders came to the belated realization that they couldn’t stop people from drinking alcohol, government leaders now have come to the belated realization that they can’t stop people from smoking pot.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham was determined not to wait another year after watching legislation that had enough votes to pass this year die instead on the New Mexico State Senate floor when the clock ran out on this year’s regular session.
Big, important bills like marijuana legalization almost never get voted down on the floor. It’s a lot easier to just wait until noon on the final day, then explain that we just didn’t have enough time this year. Maybe next year.
It is to the governor’s credit that “wait until next year” was not an acceptable answer. With legislation passed in the March 30-31 special session, New Mexico will become about the last of the western states to legalize marijuana sales. There’s a lot to learn from both the mistakes and successes other states have had.
When it comes to complicated legislation, the devil isn’t always in the details. Sometimes, as with the recent voter suppression law in Georgia, the devil is the point of the bill. But in this the case with the New Mexico marijuana bill, the devil is in the details, and there are lots of them.
Sponsors of the bill seemed intent on reversing two centuries of injustice with one piece of legislation. And while that may have been a noble effort, the result is a new law that falls short of the stated goal, which is to create an environment of responsible usage.
Responsible usage means adults only. And we can’t achieve that without some kind of disincentive applied through law enforcement to both those who illegally provide cannabis to underage users, and to the users themselves.
Drafters of the bill explained that they didn’t want mistakes made by teens to haunt them for the rest of their lives, which is understandable, But the legislation is so permissive toward juveniles that it almost ensures there will be widespread underage usage.
My hope is lawmakers revisit the legislation frequently in the years ahead, after listening to law enforcement, educators, employers, health officials and users about what is working well and what needs to be changed.
Hopefully, the experiences of neighboring states have dispelled some of the mythology about marijuana created by decades of misinformation from the federal government, which still classifies the drug as being more dangerous than cocaine, meth or fentanyl.
But there will be impacts to both public health and public safety that we need to be aware of and prepared for. There will be new challenges for employers that will differ from one industry to the next. And there will be a need for more drug treatment resources.
All of that should be pointed toward an ultimate goal of responsible usage.
Walter Rubel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.