Pubdate: Sat, 08 Nov 2014
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2014 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Dan McKay
Page: C1


Results Are Not Binding, and It's Unclear If They Will Turn into 
Government Action

Both advisory questions on the Bernalillo County ballot - marijuana 
decriminalization and a mental health tax - won big at the polls this week.

But whether those results will translate into government action isn't clear.

The county itself has little authority over marijuana laws, for 
example, and Tuesday's election results aren't binding, in any case. 
The issue hasn't advanced far in the Legislature during past sessions 
and that was before Republicans this week won control of the House.

Nevertheless, Albuquerque City Councilor Rey Garduno, a Democrat, 
said he hopes opponents will reconsider the issue in light of this 
week's election.

"I think it's a mandate from the electorate that we need to look at 
that," he said.

Garduno intends to propose a city ordinance early next year that 
would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Mayor Richard Berry, however, has been critical of the idea, and his 
veto of the legislation would stand unless the council can muster a 
two-thirds majority to override him. Democrats hold a 5-4 edge on the 
council and Berry is a Republican.

Even if a city ordinance succeeds, however, police could still charge 
people under a state law.

Marijuana decriminalization drew support from 60 percent of 
Bernalillo County voters this week and 73 percent in Santa Fe County.

The mental health tax, meanwhile, has a clearer path to passage. 
Bernalillo County commissioners have authority to impose the 
one-eighth of a percent gross-receipts tax mentioned on Tuesday's ballot.

A task force that included city, county and state officials already 
developed a series of mental and behavioral health priorities based 
on an analysis of what services are lacking. One of the goals is to 
reduce violent confrontations between police and people battling 
mental illness.

Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins, a Democrat, said she won't support 
rushing to pass a tax immediately. There must be a clear business 
plan for how the money will be distributed and a system in place to 
ensure it's spent wisely, she said.

Cooperation with other government agencies is critical, Hart Stebbins 
said, and her inclination would be to consider enacting the tax early 
next year, after it's clear what services the Legislature will fund.

But ultimately, she said she expects the county to consider imposing 
the tax "in response to the will of the voters."

The tax won support from 69 percent of county voters, according to 
unofficial returns.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom