“New Mexico is sort of behind the curve when it comes to marijuana reform,” admitted the director of the state’s Drug Policy Alliance, Emily Kaltenbach in a recent interview. “It’s been needed for many years,” she said. But burgeoning public support and a mayor’s office controlled by a Democrat seem to be nudging the needle forward. On Monday, Albuquerque lawmakers considering marijuana decriminalization announced their proposal to amend the city’s criminal code. But skeptics doubt whether the proposal will really decrease demands on law enforcement as proponents claim.
Albuquerque Lawmakers Considering Marijuana Decriminalization
On Monday, city councilors Pat Davis and Isaac Benton introduced their proposal to change the way the Albuquerque handles minor cannabis possession violations. The proposed changes would replace punitive criminal convictions for marijuana possession with civil infractions.
Under the current criminal code, possession of up to an ounce of cannabis or of “paraphernalia” would strap a first-time offender with a $50 fine and a maximum of 15 days in jail, leaving the punishment largely up to the arresting officer. Fines and jail time for repeat offenders increases, up to 90 days.
The conviction also goes on the offender’s criminal record. As a result, a single arrest can hurt a person’s chances of getting housing or student loans for college. Marijuana convictions can even threaten a person’s chance of adopting a child, a consequence only in New Mexico and a handful of other states.
The proposal submitted Monday, however, would reduce penalties for possession to a $25 ticket with no prospect of jail time. In other words, possession of paraphernalia and/or up to an ounce of marijuana would result in a simple civil infraction. And nothing would go on a person’s record.
The last time a similar proposal came out of the Albuquerque city council was in 2015. The measure passed the council on a 5-4 vote, but Republican Mayor Richard Berry ultimately vetoed it. The city of Santa Fe had better luck in 2014 when it decriminalized small quantities of cannabis.
Councilmen Davis and Benton still need to bring their proposal to a vote in the council, and mayor Tim Keller, a Democrat, has to sign it if it passes. The proposed measure has support from the Albuquerque police union, according to the AP.
Albuquerque Officials Say There’s No Problem With Cannabis Crime
There are many arguments in favor of decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of cannabis. But the argument Davis and Benton are making, that their proposal will free up resources and time for law enforcement, is under fire from Republican state lawmakers.
Rep. Monica Youngblood, a Republican from Albuquerque, opposes decriminalization on the grounds that the state has more pressing concerns.
“I don’t see that people are being arrested or rearrested or that the justice system is being packed with all of these low-level possession crimes,” she said.
Albuquerque police data shows that a recent 12-month period saw 177 instances of marijuana possession offenses. These arrests and citations consume hours of police time, argued Davis, a former cop himself.
In addition to Democratic lawmakers and the city’s police union, the people of Albuquerque are in favor of decriminalization. More than 50 percent of voters in all nine city districts voted to decriminalize possession up to an ounce.
Albuquerque lawmakers considering marijuana decriminalization will have to consider this broad coalition of support when they vote on the new proposal.