It has been two years since the city of Santa Fe moved to eliminate the criminal penalties associated with the possession of marijuana by passing an ordinance that forces law enforcement to issue tickets to those people caught holding a little weed. However, recent reports indicate that in spite of the policy change, local cops are still arresting people for this petty infraction and jamming them up in the criminal justice system.
It seems that although the city’s governmental forces have all agreed that busting tokers is a waste of time and valuable resources, the Santa Fe Police Department has been running a clever little racket in which officers are leaning on state law when it comes to how they handles incidents involving petty marijuana offenses.
A feature from the Santa Fe Reporter reveals that cops have been sending an average of one person per month to jail for small amounts of marijuana that the city says should no longer lead to incarceration. The local ordinance states that “it is the duty of the police department to make possession of one ounce or less of marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority,” but the statute outlined by the state still allows these clowns to toss first-time offenders in jail for 15 days – up to a year for a second offense.
The reason this is happening is because a number of officers on the force do not agree with the ordinance. City Police Chief Patrick Gallagher told the Reporter that the city should give the boys in blue a little more time to adjust to the change in policy because some officers “adamantly oppose” the less restrictive take on local marijuana laws. Again, the ordinance has been in effect for the past two years – approved August 27, 2014.
It comes as no surprise to learn that the majority of these arrests seem to be rooted in racism. Sources inside the Santa Fe court system say that most of the people being sent to jail for weed are young men and women of color. This is a common scene all across the nation, with black citizens being arrested at a rate of four times more than whites, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. But what makes this issue sting a bit more in Santa Fe is that we are talking about a city where officials have told the cops to stop busting everyone for weed.
And while it does not appear that anyone is being sent to state prison for petty pot possession, there are a wealth of social and economic challenges that are destined to fester into the streets of Santa Fe as a result of the police department’s failure to comply with this simply ordinance.
“Even for individuals who are never incarcerated, collateral consequences that flow from arrests and convictions — such as lost jobs, ineligibility for public housing, suspended driver’s licenses, and restrictions on access to federal student loans — can significantly derail lives,” the ACLU said.
Interestingly, some of the latest crime data suggests that the Santa Fe Police Department should not be bored enough to have to rely on busting non-violent marijuana users just to get through the day. A 2014 Uniform Report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) indicates that the state of New Mexico is one of the worst in the nation for violent crime, including cases of aggravated assault and forcible rape. To make matters worse, some of Santa Fe’s surrounding areas recently reported a 10-year high in this kind of violent crime.
Yet, Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales, who supports the concept of legalizing marijuana statewide, says he cannot force his police department to calm down on pot possession cases and start focusing more on catching rapists and murders until something happens at the state level.
“Until the state catches up, I hope we are able to work to find better alternatives than taking people to the detention center,” he told the Reporter. But beyond suggestions, the mayor says his hands are tied.”
Marijuana legalization has been discussed in the New Mexico Legislature, but has never garnered enough support to see the light of day. And even if it did, Governor Susana Martinez has said that she would not support any bill dealing with marijuana reform.
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