Yesterday, Albuquerque, New Mexico Mayor Tim Keller signed an ordinance that decriminalizes simple possession of marijuana under city law.
Once the ordinance goes into effect, the city’s penalty for under an ounce of marijuana will be a $25 civil fine. It will go into effect five days after it is published by the city clerk. Council members Pat Davis and Isaac Benton sponsored the ordinance, which passed the council in a 5-4 vote.
Police Chief Mike Geier voiced his support, saying, ”This new legislation allows officers to focus on violent crime, property crime and drunk driving.”
It will still be possible for a person to be charged under the statewide penalty — a fine of up to $50, up to 15 days in jail, or both. If you are a New Mexico resident, please let your state legislators know you want the state follow suit and stop criminalizing marijuana consumers.
The list of localities considering making marijuana legal or decriminalizing possession of small amounts is steadily growing, and two New Mexico cities were just added to the list last week.
In Santa Fe, organizers submitted almost 11,000 signatures to allow voters to decide to remove criminal penalties for simple possession.
Currently in Santa Fe, first-time offenders in possession of less than an ounce of marijuana are charged with a petty misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $50 to $100 and imprisonment of not more than 15 days. The proposal calls for possession to be treated as a civil infraction, requiring no jail time and punishable by a fine of no more than $25.
State and federal law would be unaffected by the change, if it were approved. Police officers would have discretion as to whether to charge violations under a city ordinance, handled in municipal court, or under state statute, adjudicated in magistrate court.
However, the petition called for possession of small amounts of marijuana and instruments used to ingest it to be considered “a lowest law enforcement priority.”
In Albuquerque, supporters were unable to get enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot, but the city council included a similar provision in a package of local legislative bills. The mayor has voiced his opposition and threatened a veto, but it is unclear if he has the legal authority to do so.
Groups hoping to lessen the penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana have filed petitions in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, The New Mexico Telegram reports. Current New Mexico law allows for a $50 fine and up to 15 days imprisonment for a first offense. Additional offenses can amount to a $500 fine and up to 90 days in prison. The petitions would lower the fine to only $25 for less than one ounce of marijuana and completely eliminate incarceration for first-time offenders.
This current petition is the latest in a long series of efforts to change New Mexico’s marijuana policy. In 2013, a bill that would have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana narrowly passed the New Mexico House of Representatives but garnered little support in the Senate. Earlier this year, advocates tried to amend the New Mexico state constitution to make marijuana legal for adults, but the initiative was unable to gather enough signatures to be put on the state ballot. The current petitions are getting signatures from registered voters in both cities in order to be put on the local ballots. To be passed, the petitions would need 20% of the turnout of the last city election in Albuquerque and a third of the mayoral election draw in Santa Fe.