September 4, 2015

Another marijuana decriminalization push in ABQ

Two Albuquerque city councilors are trying again to decriminalize marijuana in the state’s largest city.

City councilors Rey Garduño and Isaac Benton filed the legislation on Friday, according to a press release from the Drug Policy Alliance’s New Mexico branch. DPA is a group that has supported decriminalizing marijuana possession.

“Incarcerating people through this failed war on drugs for possessing a small amount of marijuana is creating criminals where none exist,” said Garduño, president of the Albuquerque city council.

The proposal is actually two pieces of legislation. One would remove criminal sanctions from the possession of small amounts of marijuana possession and marijuana paraphernalia. Another would make marijuana possession violations the lowest on the list of priorities for the Albuquerque Police Department.

This isn’t the first time that Garduño is involved in such a measure. Last year, the city council voted 5-4 to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Mayor Richard Berry vetoed that effort and likely would do so again.

A spokeswoman for Berry’s office said that his position has not changed since 2013.

This came after an attempt to place marijuana decriminalization on the ballot fell short of the needed signatures.*

Voters in Albuquerque ultimately were able to voice their opinion on a non-binding and symbolic question that made the ballot in Bernalillo County. The question passed 59 percent to 40 percent but not afters significant debate over whether or not such non-binding questions were legally allowed.

The Drug Policy Alliance, which pushed for the measure, cited this vote as a reason for Berry to change his mind on marijuana decriminalization.

“Now there is clear evidence that Albuquerque voters support decriminalizing marijuana,” Drug Policy Alliance policy coordinator Jessica Gelay said. “The people have spoken. Mayor Berry should listen to his constituents and not veto this measure this time around.”

The press release says that more than 50 percent of Albuquerque voters in all nine city council districts voted for the decriminalization.

This effort would make possession of one ounce or less of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia a civil infraction. Instead of potential jail time, it would be a $25 fine, similar to a traffic ticket.

The bill will be introduced during next week’s meeting and the full council will vote on the issue on September 21.

Update: Added information about Berry’s current stance on marijuana decriminalization of marijuana.

* ProgressNow New Mexico aided the marijuana decriminalization effort throughout New Mexico. ProgressNow New Mexico helps find funding for New Mexico Political Report but has no input on any editorial decisions on this or any other story.