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Albuquerque City Council Votes to Decriminalize Cannabis

April 3, 2018
The Albuquerque city council voted to decriminalize cannabis possession. But we do not recommend operating a hot air balloon while under the influence of any substance, and especially not at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. (carterdayne/iStock)
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.  — The Albuquerque City Council voted to decriminalize cannabis possession in small amounts Monday night, after lengthy testimony from citizens mostly urging them to approve the change to the local criminal code.

Under the new law, adult possession of up to one ounce could result in a $25 ticket but no jail time.

The proposal put forward by city council members Pat Davis and Isaac Benton would amend Albuquerque’s criminal code by making it a citable offense to possess an ounce (28 grams) of cannabis and paraphernalia without a valid medical marijuana referral.

Authorities could issue a $25 ticket but no jail time. Councilman Pat Davis equated the penalty to a traffic ticket, saying that for many it would “beat having to check a box for the rest of your life” and deal with years of consequences that can result from having a cannabis misdemeanor show up on a court record.

He and Councilman Isaac Benton sponsored the proposal, presenting it as a public safety issue. They argued their proposal will free up police, who have contended with staffing shortages in recent years, to focus on more serious crimes.

“At the end of the day, our police officers have more important things to do” Davis said. The measure also has backing from the city’s police union.

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The bill still must receive final approval from Democratic Mayor Tim Keller. Last year, he replaced Richard Berry, a Republican who had vetoed a similar proposal in 2015.

If passed this year, Albuquerque would join a growing list of U.S. municipalities that have enacted similar measures.

“This would put Albuquerque in line with a third of the population” in the United States, said Emily Kaltenbach, the state director in New Mexico for the Drug Policy Alliance, which has advocated nationally for easing drug sentencing laws.

Santa Fe already has a similar measure decriminalizing cannabis in place.

Under Albuquerque’s current criminal code, police can issue $50 fines to first-time offenders possessing an ounce or less of marijuana. Authorities also can jail first-time offenders for a maximum of 15 days, though such instances appear to be rare. The fines and penalties increase with a second violation.

While a petty misdemeanor, a cannabis possession charge can potentially hinder a person’s chances at securing housing or student loans, Kaltenbach said.

The City Council approved the measure on a 5-4 vote. Councilwoman Cynthia Borrego was among those who voted against it.

“There’s no empirical evidence that shows the relationship between a reduction in crime and decriminalizing marijuana,” she said.

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  • Etidorhpa

    Woohoo! Be ready to welcome all the heroin addicts!

    • 360dunk

      Except only a blind fool would STILL buy the nonsense of past decades when a hoodwinked public actually believed marijuana led to hard drugs. Never mind that there are 30 million cannabis users in the U.S. and only a relative handful of heroin addicts. If 1 or 2% of the population becomes a heroin addict, obviously that’s not a trend. Furthermore, how many of those junkies get addicted to hard drugs because of marijuana? Probably close to none. Their destructive personal habits have nothing to do with an unaltered plant. Suffice it to say, the overwhelming majority have absolutely no desire to try hard drugs. To pretend that marijuana leads to heroin addiction is so absurd that you, Etidorhpa, need a slap of reality across your confused face. Aphrodite thinks you are one backwards person and need a new screen name. She was the Goddess of Love….you are the Goddess of Idiocy.

  • 360dunk

    Councilwoman Cynthia Borrego was among those who voted against it. “There’s no empirical evidence that shows the relationship between a reduction in crime and decriminalizing marijuana,” she said.

    Borrego is a complete clown who is incapable of seeing the big picture. Apparently she doesn’t get the concept of freeing police to focus on real crime instead of petty pot busts. Maybe she missed the part where states with dispensaries funnel millions in tax revenue toward cash-strapped public schools. Perhaps she doesn’t realize that many opiate abusers turn to marijuana in order to escape their synthetic drug addiction while doctors prescribe Oxycontin to those who don’t really need it. Maybe she is blind to the dominance of the Sinaloa cartel in black markets where weed is not legal. Wake up, Borrego….you’re a mess!

    Good grief Albuquerque, vote this foolish politician out of office….she’s unfit to serve.