Today, Albuquerque city council members, Rey Garduño and Isaac Benton, filed a new bill to remove criminal sanctions pertaining to possession of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia from the city's municipal codes. A companion resolution, also submitted today, would make marijuana possession violations the lowest priority for the Albuquerque Police Department. The bill will be introduced on Wednesday, September 9 with consideration by the full council on September 21.
"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.
Last fall, Garduño sponsored a similar measure that passed the council 5-4 on a party line vote. However, it was vetoed by Mayor 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.
"Now there is clear evidence that Albuquerque voters support decriminalizing marijuana," said Jessica Gelay, policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The people have spoken. Mayor Berry should listen to his constituents and not veto this measure this time around."
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.
"We made great strides over the last year to ensure that New Mexicans understand the importance of decriminalizing marijuana, and we are very confident that this measure will take us one step closer to that goal," said Emily Kaltenbach, New Mexico state director of the Drug Policy Alliance in New Mexico. "We look forward to working with elected officials to bring practical marijuana reform to Albuquerque."
To date, eighteen 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.
The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is the nation's leading organization of people who believe the war on drugs is doing more harm than good. DPA fights for drug policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights.