New Mexico lawmakers divided on benefits of marijuana, drug laws

SANTA FE — Democrats who want to end the war on drugs are in for a battle.  State Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, told a legislative committee Friday that a sweeping policy change was in order.  “We have prisoners sitting in prison who don’t need to be there,” said McSorley, who for 36 years has been a member of the Legislature’s Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee. “We need to rethink the war on drugs.”  McSorley was especially critical of marijuana laws, questioning why the substance is designated as a Section 1 narcotic that commands the attention of police and prosecutors.

State Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas agreed. He is a Democrat and a former prosecutor in Albuquerque.  Of America’s drug policy, Maestas said, “it flat-out does not work.”  In many ways, the Democrats were carrying on the spirit of former Gov. Gary Johnson, who advocated legalization of marijuana. Johnson now is a Republican candidate for president.  But state Rep. Dennis Kintigh, R-Roswell, said the Democrats were guilty of spreading myths, especially about excessive punishment for drug users. Kintigh, a retired FBI agent and former Roswell police chief, said the claim that casual users are languishing in New Mexico prisons is untrue.

He said drug dealers and drug users with criminal histories who violate terms of their probation are the ones who land in prison.  “It’s a falsehood that people are sitting in prison for simple drug possession,” Kintigh said.  He challenged Democrats on the committee to document even five cases in which somebody drew a prison term “simply and solely for drug possession.”  Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who spent her career as a prosecutor before winning the state’s top political job, opposes drug legalization.  Martinez, through her spokes man, also backed up Kintigh’s assessment of how punishment is administered.

“Drug legalization proponents ignore the fact that the vast majority of people convicted for possessing small amounts of marijuana are diverted to treatment programs,” said her press secretary, Scott Darnell. “Those who are sentenced to prison are individuals with long criminal records with convictions for things like assault, burglary and other crimes.”  The session was the committee’s first of the year. Its members said the war on drugs would be one topic during the next six months.  Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Espanola, said he would press for a review of the parole system and whether inmates receive adequate medical treatment in state prisons.

via : El Paso Times

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