Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Plotting Out Pot: Another Rejection Of Legalization Reveals Fault Line In NM Dem Politics, Plus: Pushing Pot Or Panning It? Guv Candidates Face Decision 

Rep. Rodella
It seems it's time to adjust the outlook for legalizing recreational marijuana in New Mexico.

After a resounding rejection of a legal pot bill by a key state House committee advocates were left scrambling and some were downright dumbfounded. But observers of La Politica reflected on the strain of social conservatism that has long had a home in  the northern Hispanic counties and where a ravaging drug abuse epidemic is always close at hand. They said it could mean legalizing weed, even under a future Democratic Governor, has suddenly become much more iffy.

Rep. Debbie Rodella, chairwoman of the House Business and Industry Committee, was the skeptic in chief. The representative from Rio Arriba County--for decades a national ground zero for heroin, opioid and alcohol addiction--put muscle behind the skepticism in marshaling a 9 to 1 vote to table the pot bill and kill its chances for another year. And that's from a House newly controlled by the Democratic Party.

This is an issue that demonstrates the disconnect between the mostly Anglo, urban classes that dominate the state's Democratic Party and the working classes who are most impacted by the ongoing economic decline and the hopelessness that leads to a needle in the arm and too often an early grave. You don't see them at the trendy cafes of ABQ's Nob Hill or in Santa Fe's tony downtown district but they are oh so real, and now their faces are in the faces of those who pleasantly puff away and wonder why they are losing the battle. They ask: "Why doesn't everyone just agree that marijuana--while not harmless--is not a gateway drug?"

Here's why:

Rodella, 55 and in the House since '93, was joined in her opposition by ABQ Rep. Patricio Ruiloba, a retired APD officer whose district is in the heart of the ABQ South Valley and where drugs have wreaked havoc. Students at perennially under performing Rio Grande High School are surrounded by the state's social conditions crisis, battling not only drugs but poverty and crime which leads to more drugs.

It is this ceaseless dysfunction and heartbreak that Rodella and Ruiloba have witnessed among their constituents that marijuana advocates don't seem to understand. It is why it  makes it so difficult for these lawmakers to put any drug into the category of "safe."

Rodella faltered when she cited increased homelessness in Colorado as perhaps a result of that state legalizing marijuana, but her fear of drugs is not some knee-jerk reaction; it's based on a lifetime of exposure to an epidemic that has eaten away at the souls of her friends and neighbors. For her to be labeled "moronic" on social media for her belief reveals a deep misunderstanding of the condition of this state.

The problem, as seen through the eyes of Chairwoman Rodella, is that you have entirely too many New Mexicans who have no idea what "recreational" use of any drug is. They are pushed into addiction by a lack of education, poverty, hopelessness and family dysfunction passed on to each generation. These people are not using drugs to "recreate." They are using drugs to escape and doing whatever they must to fund their habits, including giving us a crime epidemic to go along with the one in drugs.

Marijuana proponents say legalization comes with no strings attached but our history--not that of California or Colorado--but our history--belies that argument. Representatives Rodella, Ruibola, Senator Clemente Sanchez and others may not be articulating this with precision, but they are exposing a truth that must be confronted before New Mexicans can in good conscience endorse legalizing marijuana.


Are we going to see unabashed support for the legalization of marijuana by all the Democratic Guv candidates? Highly doubtful.

Some of the candidates may wash their hands of it by supporting sending legal pot to the voters to decide. That's fine with pot advocates who see an easy win at the polls. But then there's those House committees (especially Rodella's) that they still have to get by.

State Rep. Bill McCamley, the lead sponsor of the pot bill, asserts that legal marijuana in New Mexico is "inevitable." Not so fast, Bill. You just had the rug pulled from under your feet. And then there's the Senate which last year voted against letting voters decide legal marijuana by defeating a proposed constitutional amendment.

Another thing. Even the state budget mess doesn't help the legalizers much: legal pot would bring in a relative pittance to the starved state cash coffers, perhaps $30 or $40 million a year in a $6 billion budget.


It's not like the state's two Dem US Senators are shut out from the selection of the new US Attorney that we blogged about Tuesday. GOP US Rep. Pearce's office notes:

The names are being collected by Sens Udall, Heinrich and Pearce jointly, using Udall’s office as the main collection point and then each office getting copies of all the materials. The White House will make the final call. Our office has spoken with The White House about the cooperative process underway by the New Mexico delegation and they look forward to receiving our recommendations once that is ready.

In practice it is the majority party's call--in this case the R's--as to who becomes US Attorney. Normally it would be the state's ranking Republican senator who mainly influences the White House decision. Think Pete Domenici. In this case there is no R Senator so Udall and Heinrich are more involved. But we wouldn't mistake it for more than a courtesy. The GOP controlled Senate has to confirm the nominee from the White House so this one is all R all the time. Heinrich and Udall could effectively raise objections over an extreme nominee. Otherwise, this is part of the price the Dems pay for losing power.


On the Hill with Heinrich
Sen. Martin Heinrich Tuesday put it in reverse and joined NJ Senator Cory Booker and other Dems who strayed from Senator Bernie Sanders and voted against an amendment that called for importing less expensive Canadian pharmaceutical drugs into the US. Heinrich now says he is supporting. . .

. . .New legislation to allow the importation of prescription drugs into the United States. The members of Congress have come together on legislation that will allow for drug importation while maintaining important safety standards.

Heinrich took a lot of heat on the left for what was portrayed as a wayward vote to please Big Pharma. Sen. Booker will be here for a fund-raising dinner Saturday for Heinrich who is up for re-election in '18. Heinrich's campaign sent out an erroneous time for the event in its first invite. The correct time for the dinner is 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the home of Greg Levenson. Suggested Contribution: Host - $2,700 Guest - $1,000 Current Heinrich Trust members - $250.

A reader wrote in here saying that he saw a TV spot touting Heinrich's vote that went against the Canadian measure, but the Heinrich campaign says it is not running any TV. Perhaps it was a spot paid for by a third party? Okay...late word from one of our Alligators: "Joe, I also saw the ad. It was paid for by a pharmaceutical group thanking Heinrich for "protecting New Mexicans."  Well, that ad is, as they say, no longer operative. One way or the other we track this stuff down and that's why. . .

Speaking of TV, Chris Matthew's of MSNBCs Hardball did an interview with Heinrich on White House ties to Russia. Chris, as his habit, tread lightly when it came to interviewing a fellow Dem and a good time was had by all.

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