Pubdate: Sat, 05 Sep 2015
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2015 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Dan McKay


Garduno, Benton to Introduce Plan; Mayor May Oppose the Idea

Two Albuquerque city councilors plan to introduce legislation next 
week that would make it a civil offense - not a criminal violation - 
under city law to possess an ounce or less of marijuana.

Their proposal would also declare marijuana as the lowest 
law-enforcement priority for city police.

Officers, however, would still have discretion to cite people under 
the state law for marijuana possession - the penalties for which can 
include up to 15 days in jail and fines up to $100 as a criminal 
petty misdemeanor.

Councilors Rey Garduno and Isaac Benton plan to introduce their 
proposals at Wednesday's council meeting and schedule them for action Sept. 21.

Benton said the legislation makes sense, given the shortage of 
officers in Albuquerque's police force.

"I don't really feel this type of enforcement is the best use of our 
resources," Benton told the Journal. "This simply establishes a local 
policy of what's important, what's a priority."

The city of Santa Fe enacted similar legislation last year. A Journal 
review this spring found that Santa Fe officers, however, continued 
to cite people under the state law rather than under the new city ordinance.

Marijuana decriminalization, in any case, appears to be popular in 
the Albuquerque area. About 60 percent of Bernalillo County voters 
last year responding to a nonbinding ballot question expressed 
support for decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Mayor Richard Berry, however, may stand in the way. He vetoed council 
legislation last year that sought to put the marijuana question on 
the November general-election ballot. Berry argued that 
decriminalization conflicted with state and federal law.

A spokeswoman said Friday that the mayor's position hasn't changed.

A marijuana question ended up on the Nov. 4 ballot anyway after the 
County Commission approved it.

Emily Kaltenbach of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group, said 
the proposed changes in Albuquerque are important, partly because a 
drug conviction can interfere with someone's ability to get a job or 
secure loans.

"The idea that people are actually going to jail for possession of 
small amounts of marijuana is not worth the taxpayer resources," she 
said, and there's "also the collateral consequences when someone has 
a misdemeanor on their record."

The proposed ordinance backed by Garduno and Benton would remove from 
the city's criminal code the possibility of jail time for possessing 
an ounce or less of marijuana. Instead, it would be a civil 
infraction that could result in a $25 fine, unless the person has a 
medical prescription for it.

A companion resolution they're introducing would declare it city 
policy that investigating, arresting or prosecuting people for 
possessing an ounce or less of marijuana would be the "lowest law 
enforcement priority."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom