AUSTIN (Nexstar/AP) — The U.S. House passed a bill Friday that would decriminalize marijuana nationwide, the patchwork of legalization efforts in neighboring Texas states is expanding, with New Mexico’s recreational program now in effect.
As of Friday in New Mexico, anyone 21 and older can purchase up to 2 ounces (57 grams) of marijuana — enough to roll about 60 joints or cigarettes — or comparable amounts of marijuana liquid concentrates and edible treats.
New Mexico has nurtured a medical marijuana program since 2007 under tight restrictions. Friday’s changes still represent a sea change for local law enforcement, taxation officials, commercial growers and residents who thought full-blown legal access to pot would never come.
Texas’ neighbor joins 18 states that have legalized pot for recreational use, with implications for cannabis tourism and conservative Texas, where legalization efforts have made little headway.
The recreational sales will be steps away from neighboring El Paso, where local law enforcement officials are warning, it’s still not legal to bring cannabis across state borders.
“Any person caught with any usable amount of marijuana here will be charged accordingly,” El Paso Police Sgt. Enrique Carrillo told Nexstar affiliate KTSM.
New Mexico is the first state bordering Texas to fully legalize marijuana. Neighboring states Oklahoma and Louisiana have fully legalized medical marijuana usage. Texas remains the largest prohibition state in the country.
Because of that, local El Paso officials said they expect to see more possession arrests in the coming months.
“Do whatever you will with it in New Mexico, but just don’t bring it back into Texas. Because if you are stopped by an El Paso Police officer, you will be charged accordingly,” Carrillo said.
In Texas, possession of marijuana under 2 ounces is considered a misdemeanor with up to 180 days in jail and/or a $2,000 fine. Having 2 to 4 ounces is also considered a misdemeanor, but comes with up to one year in jail and/or a $4,000 fine.
“That’s always been an issue because we have Mexico to our South and then there’s always been the importation of marijuana, and stash houses here and the use here,” Carrillo said. “Then we had the influx from California when it became legal there and in Colorado, there was a big influx from different varieties of marijuana that was available and being brought, now that it’s going to be in New Mexico, a two-minute drive for some people if that.”
The Texas Department of Public Safety said it does not anticipate any major changes to its law enforcement efforts in light of New Mexico’s legalization.
“Texas Highway Patrol Troopers will continue to be out on the roads just as they have been and, at this time, no specific enforcement initiatives are planned as a result of law changes in other states,” DPS spokesperson Ericka Miller said in a statement.
Expansion efforts in Texas
Last year, Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation into law that expanded Texas’ medical marijuana usage under the Compassionate Use Program. It now allows people who suffer from PTSD, cancer patients, and other medical conditions to obtain a medical marijuana license.
Other efforts to expand access never cleared the legislative hurdles to reach the governor’s desk.
A bill that would have decreased criminal penalties for the possession of marijuana products passed in the Texas House, but died later in conference committee.
Abbott signaled openness to such decriminalization on the campaign trail in January.
“Small possession of marijuana is not the type of violation that we want to stockpile jails with,” the governor said in January.
Federal legalization efforts
The House voted 220-204 to decriminalize marijuana usage Friday afternoon. The same bill was passed by the House in 2020 but stalled in the then-Republican-controlled Senate.
But now, legalization efforts have unprecedented levels of support in both chambers of Congress. The bill, titled the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, would eliminate criminal penalties associated with the drug and establish a process to expunge previous convictions from people’s criminal records.
It would also create a federal tax on marijuana sales to fund programs to help communities affected by “war on drugs” policies that started under the Nixon administration in the 1970s.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has signaled this is a top priority. Although, it is not clear yet if enough Senate Republicans, or even all Democrats, would support the bill.
Monica Madden will have a full report on KXAN at 6 p.m. on Friday. Nexstar affiliate KTSM contributed to this report.