Our neighbors to the north are engaged in a unique social and legal experiment that New Mexico and other states should pay close attention to.
Since the start of the new year, it has been legal for residents of Colorado to purchase up to an ounce of marijuana. Out-of-state residents can purchase up to a quarter-ounce, but will be breaking the law the minute they cross state lines.
The federal government has thus far taken a hands-off approach, but the new state law, as well as a similar law passed in Washington state, are in conflict with federal law. How that conflict eventually gets resolved is one of many questions still to be answered.
What will the impact be on traffic safety?
Will tax revenue from marijuana sales produce the windfall that is expected?
What will the impact be on businesses in the state? Will employees still be subject to drug tests for marijuana as a condition of employment? Will there be increased absences?
What effect will it have on drug use among teens? Will legalization of marijuana lead to greater usage of harder drugs such as heroine and cocaine?
Or will it, instead, free up law enforcement to pursue more serious crimes? Will it free up space in overcrowded jails?
If New Mexico were to legalize the drug, what would happen when residents were found to have it at Border Patrol checkpoints?
There are, obviously, a lot of uncertainties here. However, one thing is certain -- the decades-long "war on drugs" has not been successful. We have invested billions of dollars, imprisoned scores of users -- blacks and Hispanics at a much higher rate than Anglos, though their rates of usage are similar -- yet have barely made a dent.
No wonder lawmakers in other states are taking a close look at Colorado, with an eye toward legalization. Alaska is likely next, according to a recent story in the Denver Post. Oregon may not be far behind. Legislatures in Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont may also take up the issue this year.
In New Mexico, Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, has proposed a constitutional amendment that would put marijuana legalization on the ballot this year. Based on the difficulty over many years to get a medical marijuana bill through the state Legislature, we doubt if he will be successful the first time out.
It's probably better if New Mexico gives the Colorado experiment some time to play out so we can learn from its mistakes. But we're glad that Ortiz y Pino is starting the discussion.
--Las Cruces Sun-News