UNM Law School Chapter Leader Brett Phelps being interviewed by the local press.
For this year’s New Mexico Lobby Day, our SSDP chapters joined with several other advocacy organizations for Cannabis Awareness Day at the Roundhouse, including NM NORML (led by SSDP alum and board member Monique Chavez), New Mexico EMPACT, Grow for Vets NM, the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patients Alliance, and the American Cannabis Nurses Association. While previous lobby days consisted of me and a handful of other SSDPers making the rounds at the capitol, this year dozens of advocates descended on Santa Fe to deliver the message to lawmakers that the war on drugs has failed. It was inspiring to join them and see how far the drug policy reform movement has grown in our state over these last few years. One highlight of the day for me was having the opportunity to give a brief speech in the rotunda, where I spoke about SSDP’s message and what young people want from drug policy, namely harm reduction and laws based on science, compassion, and human rights rather than fear and intimidation.
My favorite part of the day was in the afternoon when our law school chapter was joined by SSDP 2016 Rising Star Award winner Matthew Aragon and his fellow chapter members from Volcano Vista High School. I was nearly thirty years old before I made it to our state capitol, so I was thrilled to see these young people getting out to make change happen. We had a solid meeting with State Representative Antonio “Mo” Maestas, a longtime drug policy reform supporter whose district includes Volcano Vista High School. He welcomed us into his office and told us about what he and his fellow House Democrats were planning to address our state’s woeful budget shortfall. I was proud of how professionally Matthew and his classmates conducted themselves throughout the day, as they made it clear that New Mexico SSDP is in good hands for many years to come.
For now, though, our struggle to bring a more sensible drug policy to New Mexico inches forward. With a former prosecutor and lifetime drug warrior as our governor, it is unlikely that any major reforms will pass in the next couple years. But that does not mean that progress is not being made. This year there is an adult use cannabis legalization bill that is making its way through committees, something that has not happened in the past. Also, there are several bills progressing through the Senate and the House that would make needed improvements to our medical program by codifying more qualifying conditions, including substance use disorder, and by providing protection for parents from losing custody of their children, something that can still happen to parents enrolled as medical patients. One of the most interesting drug policy bills this session would require the state Department of Health to enter agreements with tribal nations interested in pursuing their own medical cannabis programs on tribal lands.
For the third year in a row, SSDP New Mexico Lobby Day was a roaring success. This event is becoming one of the highlights of the year for our chapter and I look forward to seeing how it grows after I move on from my role as Chapter Leader. There are few things more fun than getting dressed up and visiting your state capitol to talk to (mostly) old people about the importance of legalizing drugs.
Written by Brett Phelps
University of New Mexico Law School