September 22, 2015

ABQ city council passes marijuana decriminalization

The city council in Albuquerque once again passed legislation to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana along with another piece of legislation to make marijuana offenses the lowest priority for Albuquerque police.

MarijuanaBoth measures are destined for failure, however, as Mayor Richard Berry vowed to veto them again.

The legislation passed 5-4, with Democrats voting for the measure and Republicans voting against. The city council is officially non-partisan, but votes frequently fall along party lines.

It would take six votes to override a mayoral veto. Mayor Richard Berry is a Republican.

When councilors Rey Garduño and Isaac Benton announced earlier this month their intention to push for the legislation again, a spokesman for the mayor told New Mexico Political Report that Berry’s stance has not changed since 2013, when he vetoed legislation.

When Berry vetoed the marijuana decriminalization in 2013, he said the effort “has the potential of decriminalizing an illegal drug in our city.”

The legislation would have made the punishment for 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.

A companion piece of legislation would have instructed police to make marijuana arrests the lowest priority.

A non-binding question on the ballot last year found that around 60 percent of Albuquerque residents supported reducing penalties for possession.

Opponents said that the city was not the right place to look at decriminalization.

From the Albuquerque Journal:

Councilors Don Harris and Dan Lewis, both Republicans, said the city isn’t the right venue for changing marijuana laws. The debate should happen at the state or federal level, they said.

“I really don’t like using the city of Albuquerque ordinances in symbolic fashion to make a point,” Harris said.

Past efforts

The Drug Policy Alliance has pushed for decriminalization of marijuana in Albuquerque.

“The vote tonight, in support of decriminalizing tiny amounts of marijuana, represents a critical first step toward bringing Albuquerque law into step with public opinion and common sense,” stated Emily Kaltenbach, the state director of the Drug Policy Alliance in New Mexico. “The majority of the City Council and the people of Albuquerque have spoken. It’s time their mayor took note.”

The group was successful in Santa Fe after a city council vote.

However, police are able to charge those with possession under state law, which still has stiffer penalties. The Albuquerque Journal found earlier this year that police have been opting to charge under state law.

Efforts to change the state law on marijuana possession have also fallen short. In 2013, the state House voted to reduce the penalties but the effort failed to gain traction in the Senate and did not get a vote.

In this year’s legislative session the opposite occurred; marijuana decriminalization cleared the Senate but could not pass the House.

Gov. Susana Martinez, a former prosecutor, is against decriminalizing marijuana.

Medical marijuana is legal in New Mexico, but in a very restricted way compared to other states.

ProgressNow New Mexico aided efforts to decriminalize marijuana in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. 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.