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Pot decriminalization would help police, co-sponsors say

Councilor Isaac Benton, right, speaks about legislation that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana alongside Councilor Pat Davis and Emily Kaltenbach. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — City Councilors Pat Davis and Isaac Benton, who introduced an ordinance Monday that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, touted the legislation as a way to help Albuquerque Police Department officers focus on the city’s burgeoning crime problem.

“I can tell you that in a city where we still have people waiting 20 and 30 minutes for responses to burglaries and other crimes, minutes matter,” Davis said during a Monday news conference. “The last thing our police officers want and the last thing our residents want is to be waiting on backup or another police officer who’s doing paperwork on a marijuana crime that, quite frankly, the majority of the city thinks should be legal.”

The ordinance would allow police officers to ignore or issue a $25 fine for possession of less than an ounce or paraphernalia used exclusively for marijuana.

Davis said the legislation also would save money spent on police work in crimes involving marijuana possession.

Unlike similar legislation passed in 2015 but vetoed by then-Mayor Richard Berry, Davis said the ordinance includes provisions for those who use marijuana for medical reasons.

“It’s a reality that tens of thousands of New Mexicans rely on cannabis to treat medical conditions,” Davis said. “We don’t want them to end up in the criminal system or even in the fine system by exercising their medical rights.”

Emily Kaltenbach of the Drug Policy Alliance, which supports the legislation, said one-third of Americans now live in jurisdictions where marijuana has been decriminalized.

“It was just a few weeks ago that (Attorney General) Jeff Sessions announced his war on marijuana,” Kaltenbach said. “I’m really inspired to see cities like Albuquerque … really step up and resist and push back on the Trump administration when it comes to marijuana reform.”

The ordinance will be heard by the council’s Finance and Government Operations Committee before heading back to the full council for a final vote.