October 6, 2015

Councilors urge override of marijuana decriminalization veto

Two city councilors in Albuquerque who are pushing for less stringent punishment for possession of small amounts of marijuana want their fellow city councilors to override the mayor’s vetoes.

Marijuana budCity Council President Rey Garduño and councilor Isaac Benton rebutted Mayor Richard Berry’s statements about the veto of decriminalization of marijuana. The other measure would have directed Albuquerque police to make marijuana possession a low priority.

The two said that the city should not wait for the state Legislature in Santa Fe or Congress in Washington D.C. to make changes to marijuana policy in the city and noted that other cities around the country have already done so.

Santa Fe is the only city in New Mexico that has decriminalized marijuana. Earlier this year, media reports showed that police in Santa Fe were still processing marijuana possession as a state crime, not the city civil infraction.

“The Mayor has suggested that this decision should only be made by Congress or the Legislature when in fact, neither body stands in the way of what the City is allowed to do here. For example, the Federal Controlled Substance Act specifically states that it did not intend ‘occupy the field’ with respect to drug policy,” a joint statement said. “The City Attorney confirmed that State law already allows cities to set up their own civil process to deal with possession of small amounts of Marijuana.”

The two also urged an override of Berry’s veto.

“While the Mayor appears to want a permission slip from the Feds or the State before responding to his constituents, the Council is proposing to use the tools already available to determine our own policy,” they said. “We urge the Council to give thoughtful consideration to this issue leading up to the vote on whether to override the Mayor’s veto, and to vote in favor of doing what we can at the local level until more comprehensive reform comes to New Mexico and the nation.”

The proposal would have set a non-criminal fine of $25 for possession of paraphernalia and one ounce or less of marijuana.

A non-binding vote showed a majority of Albuquerque voters supported decriminalization.*

An override is extremely unlikely. Just five councilors voted for the measures, one short of the six that would be needed to override the veto. The four Republican members of the officially non-partisan panel have stuck together on such votes in the past.

The five Democrats have been unable to peel one off to override a veto of the Republican mayor.

At a state level, marijuana decriminalization seems doomed as long as Gov. Susana Martinez is in office. The former prosecutor is opposed to any lightening of current state marijuana laws and even said she opposed medical marijuana while first running for governor.

Earlier this year, the Senate passed legislation that would reduce penalties for possession on a razor-thin 21-20 vote. The legislation died in the House committee process. In 2013, the House passed the legislation but it did not get traction in the Senate.

Federal efforts have not even gone that far in the process.

*ProgressNow New Mexico helped with the vote on decriminalization of marijuana in New Mexico. ProgressNow New Mexico helps with funding for New Mexico Political Report but the organization and no on in the organization has any editorial input in New Mexico Political Report including on this story.