Voters in Santa Fe and Albuquerque filed petitions Thursday to give residents in two of New Mexico’s largest cities a vote on marijuana penalties.
Similar ballot language filed with the city clerks in both cities would eliminate incarceration and lower the penalty to a simple $25 fine under city code for persons possessing less than one ounce of marijuana and paraphernalia.
The city charters of each city permit voters to petition their government for changes to city ordinances, including those relating to marijuana.
“Momentum for more sensible marijuana policies has been building in the legislature for years,” said Patrick Davis of ProgressNow New Mexico, a group supporting the campaign. “But we don’t see any need to wait on the legislature to make big change. When residents pass these measures, more than one-third of New Mexicans will live in cities with more practical marijuana policies and that provides great momentum for New Mexico and our country.”
“We know that law enforcement officers have serious issues to address and requiring them and our courts to expend precious time and resources pursuing low-level marijuana offenders is simply bad public safety policy,” said Emily Kaltenbach of Drug Policy Action.
Under the city charters, city clerks have to review the petitions submitted then the groups must collect the requisite number of signatures from voters in order to have the measure considered.
Currently, violation of Albuquerque city ordinance §12-4-9 (Possession of Marijuana) risks a penalty of “a fine or not more than $50, or imprisonment not exceeding 15 days, for the first offense and not more than $500 or imprisonment not exceeding 90 days for the second and subsequent offenses.”
Violation of §12-4-10 (Possession of drug paraphernalia [for the purposes of marijuana]), risks “a fine not exceeding $500 or by imprisonment not exceeding 90 days or both.”
In Santa Fe, first time offenders “shall be punished by a fine of not less than fifty dollars ($50.00) or more than one hundred dollars ($100.) and by imprisonment for not more than fifteen (15) days” for possession of marijuana and “a fine of not less than fifty dollars ($50.00) nor more than one hundred dollars ($100.) or by imprisonment for a definite term of ninety (90) days, or both” for possessing paraphernalia.
Language filed in both cities reduces the penalty to a simple $25 fine. State law remains unaffected by this change, though officers, judges and city leaders would have discretion in choosing which statutes to charge under.