By Carla J. Sonntag
President and Founder, New Mexico Business Coalition
New Mexico is a phenomenal state with some of the best people in the nation. Unfortunately we have floundered for decades in how best to empower working families and make our state a desirable location for business operations. As we struggle to find the magic sauce, New Mexico Business Coalition encourages elected officials to look outside our borders for successful policies and practices that are proven to work. At the same time, avoiding laws and policy that have been found harmful should be a no-brainer.
Some elected officials are looking to Colorado as an example of ‘success’ for legalizing recreational marijuana. They are focused on new tax revenue as well as more freedom for marijuana users to not get caught in the legal system. Other officials are focused on the full societal costs and the foundation for their opposition to recreational marijuana just got stronger.
The Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA) worked in concert with more than 30 organizations to evaluate the effects marijuana legalization has had on Colorado residents since 2013. A 2019 RMHIDTA report highlights the following:
Traffic Fatalities & Impaired Driving: Traffic deaths in which drivers tested positive for marijuana increased 109%. Since recreational marijuana was legalized, the percentage of all Colorado traffic deaths that were marijuana related increased 8%. This equates to one person killed every three days in 2018 which is double the rate before legalization.
Marijuana Use: Children 12 and older who say they’ve used marijuana in the past month increased 58%, and their usage is 78% higher than the national average. Adult marijuana usage increased 94% and is 96% higher than the national average.
Public Health: The yearly number of emergency department visits related to marijuana increased 54% and marijuana-related hospitalizations increased 101%. The percent of suicide incidents in which toxicology results were positive for marijuana increased 9%.
Black Market: Since legalization, the Colorado Drug Task Forces conducted 257 investigations of black market marijuana in Colorado resulting in: 192 felony arrests and 6.08 tons of marijuana seized. Seizures of Colorado marijuana in the U.S. mail system going to 25 other states have increased 1,042%.
Societal Impact: Sixty-four percent of local jurisdictions in Colorado have banned medical and recreational marijuana businesses. The bill to be considered in N.M. will prohibit counties and cities from opting out of the statewide law.
Some legislators point to an overcrowded criminal system as a reason to legalize marijuana and reduce incarceration. ‘Catch and release’ criminal justice ‘reforms’ have resolved the overcrowding issue. More importantly, New Mexicans are not held in jail related to possession of personal use marijuana. Medical marijuana has been legal since 2007 and New Mexico decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana for any purpose in 2019.
NMBC understands the need to diversify our economy and provide additional income, but the Colorado report shows that marijuana tax revenue represents less than one percent of Colorado’s 2018 budget.
New Mexico employers are already challenged to find drug-free workers for jobs that require a strict ‘no use’ policy for safety reasons. Given what happened in Colorado, one can clearly see that legalization of recreational marijuana would only increase the difficulty of hiring for those positions.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s data shows New Mexico had the nation’s largest percentage increase in homelessness from 2018 to 2019 at 27%. HUD’s report also shows homeless rates increased significantly after legalization of recreational marijuana in the state of Washington (18.9%) and Colorado (9.1%). Think about the impact of legalized recreational marijuana on homelessness in New Mexico.
New Mexico is confronted with a high homeless population, mental illness challenges that have not been adequately addressed, high addiction rates, poor performance of some students, and a challenging hiring environment. Legislators should focus on the societal costs we’ve seen in Colorado and not pursue a pipe dream of success that could easily just be a smoke screen for additional failure.
The New Mexico Business Coalition (NMBC) focuses on improving the business environment for companies and the quality of life for all New Mexicans. Its nonpartisan educational efforts focus on providing New Mexicans the facts about issues impacting business opportunities and job creation in our state. nmbizcoalition.org