Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) said this week that his state shouldn’t legalize recreational marijuana because it would hinder the economic fortunes of poor people. Wealthier states can better afford to handle the substance, he added.
“I do not see how in combating poverty you can put one more obstacle in front of people who are struggling to get out of poverty,” Pearce said Thursday, “so I don’t see where I would support recreational marijuana.”
A wealthier state, the congressman added, could more easily absorb the allegedly deleterious effects of legal marijuana.
“People [point to] other states and say, ‘Well, Colorado is doing it just fine,’” Pearce continued. “Colorado has a much deeper economic base to rely on. Colorado has much deeper pockets to rely on.”
As for New Mexico, he said, “We’re at the bottom of everything ― and to say that we want to make one more [obstacle] for people who are just trying to get themselves on their feet and get back in the workforce and work their way out, I just don’t see how it fits. I don’t see how it fits that we’re going to deal with addiction and yet we’re going to people, ‘This one is OK.’”
A Pearce spokesperson said that the congressman was not making a distinction between the use of marijuana by rich and poor individuals and that to claim he did would be a “deliberate distortion.”
“Colorado has deeper pockets to pay for more drug addiction, more jails and more law enforcement,” said Keeley Christiensen, Pearce’s Washington press secretary. “They have their right to spend their tax money mitigating the destructive effects of drug addiction how they choose. The congressman believes New Mexico would be wiser spending its money on creating jobs, hope and opportunity for everyone.”
Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, New Mexico has the second-highest poverty rate (after Mississippi), according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Colorado, which became the first state to implement a law allowing the purchase and sale of recreational marijuana in 2014, has the 13th-lowest poverty rate.
Pearce, who is running unopposed in New Mexico’s Republican gubernatorial primary, made his comments in response to a question about marijuana legalization during a candidate forum alongside the three remaining Democratic candidates. Video of his remarks was provided to HuffPost by the liberal super PAC American Bridge.
After his easy primary race, Pearce likely faces a stiff challenge in the general election for governor. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the favorite to win the Democratic nomination, is a well-known figure in the state, hailing from an established political family that includes her cousin, Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Although New Mexico’s outgoing governor, Susana Martinez, is a Republican, the state has leaned Democratic in recent statewide elections.
Pearce has a history of inflammatory comments about hot-button issues. In 2008, he claimed that legalizing same-sex marriage would lead to LGBTQ people marrying “everyone in California with AIDS” to give the latter individuals health benefits. In his 2014 memoir, “Just Fly the Plane, Stupid!” he wrote that wives must “voluntarily submit” to their husbands.
Clarification: Language in this story has been amended to specify that Colorado was the first state to implement its law allowing recreational purchase and sale of marijuana. It passed that law at the same time as Washington state passed a similar one.