New Mexico: Albuquerque City Council Votes 5-4 To Decriminalize Marijuana Possession
Companion Resolution, Making Marijuana a Low Law Enforcement Priority Also Passes
Albuquerque city council members Monday night voted 5-4 on party lines in favor of Ordinance 15-60 to remove criminal sanctions pertaining to possession of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia from the city’s municipal codes and replace them with a $25 fine. The measure now heads to the Mayor who has the authority to veto the legislation.
A companion resolution, also voted on Monday night, that would make marijuana possession violations a low priority for the Albuquerque Police Department, passed 6-3 with Republican Councilor Brad Winter joining the Democrats in support.
"We are criminalizing people not only for the use [of marijuana], but for life," said Rey Garduño, president of the City Council and the legislation co-sponsor, in his opening remarks. "We shouldn't curtail them for such a minor infraction."
Last fall, Garduño sponsored a similar measure that also passed the council 5-4 on a party line vote. However, it was vetoed by Mayor Richard J. Berry.
Since then, Albuquerque residents voiced their support at the ballot box for decriminalizing marijuana. In November, voters in Santa Fe County and Bernalillo County voiced overwhelming support for marijuana decriminalization. Bernalillo County voted 60 percent and Santa Fe County voted 73 percent in favor of statewide decriminalization. More than 50 percent of Albuquerque voters in all nine city council districts voted to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.
“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,” said Emily Kaltenbach, New Mexico state director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) in New Mexico. “The majority of the City Council and the people of Albuquerque have spoken. It’s time their mayor took note.”
The proposed ordinance makes one ounce or less of marijuana and possession of any drug paraphernalia a civil infraction with a fine of $25. A civil infraction is not considered a criminal conviction.
The ordinance also takes away the potential for jail time. Currently a person spends more than two weeks in jail for a first offense and 90 days for a subsequent offense.
Santa Fe decriminalized small amounts of marijuana in 2014 and earlier this year, the New Mexico State Senate passed Senate Bill 383, which would have reduced penalties for adults who possess small amounts of marijuana and drug paraphernalia at the state level. The bill received bipartisan support, including Republican Senators Lisa Torraco and John Ryan, who voted in favor. Comparable bipartisan-supported legislation passed in the New Mexico House of Representatives in 2013.
To date, 18 states and the District of Columbia have reduced penalties for marijuana possession. More than 120 million people -- or one-third of the U.S. population -- live in jurisdictions where marijuana has been essentially decriminalized, meaning there is no jail time associated with possession.
Graphic: Collins & Collins, PC