More than 150,000 New Mexicans appear eligible for the automatic expungement of their past cannabis possession charges under a bill Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says she'll sign, according to a preliminary review by the state Department of Public Safety.
The previously unreported figure illuminates the scope of the drug war's impact on state residents. Many of them have struggled to secure housing, jobs and even federal student loans because of charges and convictions for offenses that will no longer be crimes under the provisions of a companion bill that legalizes the recreational use of cannabis for adults.
Lawmakers adopted both bills during a special session that ended April 1.
The number—154,791, to be exact—is far greater than previously believed, too. Legislators speculated that perhaps 4,000 people had been arrested annually for cannabis possession in recent years.
The job of expunging—essentially walling off a criminal record from public view—will fall largely on DPS. Interim Secretary Tim Johnson and Records Bureau chief Regina Chacon acknowledge in an interview this week with SFR that it's a big, complex lift. And the clock is already ticking.
But they say the department is up to it.
"I believe we're going to get it done," Johnson says. "We get a lot of things on our plate over the years; we haven't knocked all of it out of the park, but we do the best job we can."
Expungement has long been an essential element of legalization for advocates and their allies in the Legislature, which passed a law in 2019 allowing people to petition a court to have certain past charges and convictions wiped.