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Home » Uncategorized » UP! Coalition offers NM legislators advice amid recreational marijuana debate

UP! Coalition offers NM legislators advice amid recreational marijuana debate


This article is part of the Unified Prevention Coalition for Doña Ana County’s bi-monthly guest column in the Las Cruces Sun-News

By Elijah Myers and Ned Rubin

Monday, February 22, 2021; Las Cruces, NM: New Mexico lawmakers are considering following in the footsteps of their neighboring states, Colorado and Arizona. On February 2, 2021, New Mexico legislators introduced House Bill 12 and Senate Bill 13; both of which detail their plans for legalizing recreational Marijuana. The push for recreational marijuana in our state has been growing in recent years, with Democratic Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto (Senate Bill 13), claiming that, “I think people want us to [legalize it] in pretty high numbers.” Although there are many obstacles the bill must overcome to be passed, the legalization of marijuana is a definite possibility in the near future for New Mexico residents. 

Marijuana legalization is a relatively new topic, with many unknown variables still being sorted out. Amongst those concerns is trying to piece together the impact recreational marijuana could have on communities are the members of the Unified Prevention Coalition of Doña Ana County (UP!). From day one, this coalition has been building community efforts to reduce and prevent youth drug and alcohol misuse.

UP! Coalition Chair, Dr. Edward Rubin stated, “The science about the use of marijuana also needs to be considered. Research shows us that exposure to THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, delays maturation of the part of the brain involved in making choices and weighing alternatives in those under the age of 25.” He added, “This disruption in young people continues into adulthood.”   

Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham and state legislator’s motivation for the legalization of recreational marijuana is also understandable. New Mexico lawmakers have pointed out that they intend to impose a 21 percent tax on marijuana purchases. This will help the diversification of state income, help increase job opportunities for New Mexicans, and reduce court and incarceration costs. According to the 2019 Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey one in four Doña Ana High School students self-reported using marijuana. It would be wise for the legislators to consider devoting part of the anticipated income to enhanced prevention and treatment programs, especially for youth. 

Research has also found that marijuana is the illicit drug most frequently found in the blood of drivers involved in vehicle crashes, along with alcohol. Immediate impairment from marijuana is difficult to detect due to its slow rate of elimination from the body. As a result, marijuana can still be detected days or weeks after use. Therefore, an important consideration for our legislators and law enforcement partners to take is the development of screening technology, such as the breathalyzer, for marijuana to keep our roadways safe from drivers under the influence. 

Another important issue to seriously consider are the locations of the recreational marijuana outlets. New Mexico’s Public Health Institute, the Center for Health Innovation has illustrated in studying outlets for alcohol in Doña Ana County, the density of retail outlet locations is correlated with more use and greater intensity of drinking.  This same outcome has been found regarding marijuana outlets according to a recent Rand Corporation study (Am J Add, 12/30/20). It is important for the public health of communities that there be a low outlet density as a strategy to mitigate potential public health harms. 

The Coalition also urges the consideration of warning labels, as has been done with both alcohol and tobacco products. Recreational marijuana will be available to the public not only to smoke, but in the form of edibles like food, drinks or candy. According to the Annals of Emergency Medicine (2014 Oct; 64(4): A19-21) a significant increase in child emergency room visits have been due to unintentional marijuana poisoning, and this concerning trend occurred in Denver after its state legalized recreational marijuana. Edibles are easily mistaken for regular candy, so the UP! Coalition recommends that our state legislature considers warning labels on all recreational marijuana products.

Dr. Rubin said that the labels, “should include warnings to keep this product out-of-reach of children [and] to not combine this product with other drugs, and information about the concentration of the product, similar to how alcohol content is listed on the labels of alcoholic beverages sold.” 

Finally, the Up! Coalition hopes that the legislature, during their careful and considered deliberations, takes our recommendations to heart as they consider not only the fiscal implications for legalizing marijuana, but the serious potential public health implications. 

This news release is made available by the Unified Prevention (UP!) Coalition for Doña Ana County, a program of the Center for Health Innovation, and funded by the New Mexico Office of Substance Abuse Prevention (OSAP).