Pubdate: Wed, 29 Oct 2014
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2014 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Dan McKay
Page: C1


Critics Say Question Is Misleading; Supporters Say It Lets Voters Speak

Voters in Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties have a chance this fall to 
offer their advice to policy-makers on state and local efforts to 
decriminalize possession of an ounce or less of marijuana.

The election results won't enact a specific ordinance or otherwise 
require the counties to take action.

Supporters say it's a chance for voters to weigh in ahead of next 
year's session of the state Legislature and to encourage local 
policy-makers to respond. Critics say it is disingenuous, misleading 
and a transparent effort to encourage pot-smoking advocates to vote 
rather than stay home.

Emily Kaltenbach of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group, said 
the ballot question "is the purest form of democracy. This is the 
best way to communicate your feelings on this to local and state 

"There's momentum across the country," she said. "People want to see 
marijuana laws reformed."

Opponents aren't convinced. They say cities and counties have little 
authority over marijuana laws, and they question whether the election 
results will have any practical effect.

Trudy Jones, a city councilor in Albuquerque, said voters shouldn't 
be misled into thinking the ballot question actually changes the law 
on marijuana possession.

"I think it's blatantly disingenuous and misleading," Jones said of 
the ballot question.

Santa Fe City Councilor Ron Trujillo said the key for him is that 
state law still prohibits the recreational use of marijuana.

"I've never condoned drugs, and I never will," he said.

In New Mexico, marijuana use is legal only for medical purposes.

Republican members of the Albuquerque City Council have been 
particularly critical of the marijuana question.

They point out that the city of Albuquerque wanted three questions 
added to the ballot - including redevelopment bonds and a new process 
for selecting a police chief - but the County Commission opted 
instead for its own questions, including the one on marijuana.

"It's a shame that the County Commission made room for a political 
survey but not for policy questions that would have put hundreds of 
thousands of dollars at work in our economy," said City Councilor Dan 
Lewis, a Republican.

Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O'Malley, a Democrat who pushed 
to have the pot question added to the ballot, said the reality is 
that marijuana penalties are "an important policy issue for us." 
There's broad interest in the topic, she said, not just from young people.

The marijuana question took an odd path to the ballot. Petition 
drives launched in Albuquerque and Santa Fe this summer aimed to 
gather enough signatures to get new ordinances on the ballot to 
reduce marijuana penalties.

In Santa Fe, city councilors went ahead and just approved the 
ordinance without an election. It makes possession of an ounce or 
less of marijuana a civil infraction punishable by a fine of no more than $25.

Police officers, however, can still cite people under state law, 
which has a maximum penalty of a $100 fine and 15 days in jail for a 
first offense.

In Albuquerque, the effort failed to gather enough signatures, though 
supporters say the city clerk improperly rejected some of the 
signatures they turned in. Bernalillo County commissioners eventually 
stepped in and, on a partyline vote, Democrats approved the question 
for the ballot.

Santa Fe County also voted to put the question on the ballot, even 
though the city of Santa Fe had adopted an ordinance on the topic.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom