Pubdate: Wed, 30 Sep 2015
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2015 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Emily Kaltenbach, State Director, Drug Policy Alliance


Albuquerque City Council Approved Changes, and Now Final OK Lies With 
Mayor Richard Berry

The Albuquerque City Council on Sept. 21 voted to reduce marijuana 
penalties for possessing an ounce or less for personal use. Mayor 
Richard Berry has 10 days from the vote to veto it. Will the mayor, 
who vetoed the legislation last year, change his mind this time 
around? He should. Let me count the ways.

1. Over 115 million people, or one-third of the U.S. population, 
lives in jurisdictions where marijuana has been decriminalized. 
Oregon decriminalized marijuana more than 40 years ago. Santa Fe, 
Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia decriminalized marijuana last year.

2. Voters in Bernalillo County voted overwhelmingly in favor of 
reducing marijuana penalties in the November election. Nearly 91 
percent of the precincts in Bernalillo County said "yes" to reducing 
penalties. Overall, 60 percent of voters in the county voted in favor 
of penalty reductions.

3. Some say that people are not arrested for small amounts of 
marijuana. The data tell a different story. As the Albuquerque 
Journal reported on Sunday, "Metropolitan Court checked and found 
that in a year's time it handled fewer than 200 cases. And Nataura 
Powdrell, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Detention Center, found 
just '30 people in the last year who were booked on the possession of 
marijuana (1 ounce or less) charge without a warrant or probation violation.' "

Those numbers are not trivial. They represent real people who, as a 
result of their arrest, face collateral sanctions such as barriers to 
employment and housing, loss of benefits such as food stamps and 
health care, and the lifetime of character defamation that comes with 
their criminal history.

4. APD says the new city ordinance would create conflict and be 
confusing. However, the city already has a marijuana possession city 
ordinance that differs from state law. Today, Albuquerque police have 
the discretion to cite under the existing city law or the state law. 
Having the ability to give someone a $25 citation for marijuana 
possession will make things easier for police, not harder.

5. The claim that Santa Fe police are not citing under their new city 
marijuana ordinance is false. In fact, recent data show that at least 
20 percent of the time, Santa Fe police are citing people with a $25 
fine instead of charging them under state law.

6. Albuquerque deserves to have a police department that has the 
resources and training to deal with serious violent crimes. Why would 
we knowingly put our children and police officers at risk by 
stretching our law enforcement beyond their means with nonviolent and 
low-level crimes that do not threaten our community? On Sept. 9, an 
Albuquerque Journal headline read, "Violent Weekend Stretches APD 
Thin." Sadly, I am sure this was not a surprise to most Albuquerque 
residents, who live in a city that has a crime rate twice that of the 
national rate. It also was not a surprise to the APD as they were 
quoted in the article saying that they are understaffed. Reducing 
marijuana penalties will help law enforcement resources be spent more 
efficiently and effectively.

7. The decision Berry faces is rooted in a moral question. Do we want 
to be the kind of society that arrests and jails nonviolent adults - 
who are disproportionately people of color and low-income - for 
possessing a substance that's unequivocally been shown to be far less 
dangerous than alcohol or tobacco?

The people of Bernalillo County have clearly demonstrated that they 
want a more just society. It is time their mayor took note.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom