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City Council votes to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana


City Councilors Trudy Jones, Don Harris, Cynthia Borrego and Brad Winter vote “no” on legislation to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana during Monday night’s meeting. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Possessing small amounts of marijuana will no longer be a criminal offense in the city of Albuquerque, councilors narrowly voted on Monday night, should Mayor Tim Keller sign the legislation.

An ordinance that allows police to issue a $25 civil penalty for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana and associated paraphernalia passed 5 to 4 during the meeting.

Councilors Pat Davis, Klarissa Peña, Ken Sanchez, Isaac Benton and Diane Gibson, all Democrats, voted in favor of the legislation.

Davis and Benton sponsored the measure.

Republican Councilors Brad Winter, Trudy Jones and Don Harris and Democrat Cynthia Borrego opposed the ordinance.

Borrego said she worried about the lack of regulation of marijuana, saying that illegally obtained marijuana could be laced with other drugs.

Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis on Monday speaks in favor of his bill that decriminalizes small quantities of marijuana. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Currently, those in possession of an ounce or less of marijuana could be arrested, sentenced to up to 15 days in jail and given a fine of up to $50 for a first offense.

The new ordinance seemed popular among the public, with just one person out of several speaking out in opposition during the meeting.

Rylee Escalada said she uses marijuana to treat her post-traumatic stress disorder after being violently sexually assaulted.

Ana Moran, a field organizer with the ACLU of New Mexico, said being criminally charged with marijuana possession can permanently affect someone’s ability to find housing and employment.

“This ordinance is a powerful first step to push back against laws that have deeply impacted, in particular, poor communities of color,” Moran said.

And Emily Kaltenbach of the Drug Policy Alliance said the new law would bring Albuquerque in line with the one-third of Americans already living in areas that have decriminalized the drug.

Those who are licensed to use medical marijuana may not be fined under the ordinance.

Ana Moran, an ACLU field organizer, speaks in favor of the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Albuquerque Police Officers Association President Shaun Willoughby said officers generally don’t make arrests in cases involving small amounts of marijuana, but the ordinance means they can still make arrests under state law if they deem it necessary.

“I don’t like to take discretion out of police officers’ hands,” Willoughby said. “They need that discretion.”

State laws are similar to those currently in place in the city.

The bill now heads to Mayor Keller, who had expressed support for decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana on the campaign trail.

“We’re focused on best prioritizing police resources for public safety, that may include initiatives to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana,” Keller spokeswoman Alicia Manzano said in an email. “We will look for guidance from our police department on this and the Mayor will make an informed decision about the details of the bill when it reaches his desk.”

Similar legislation passed in 2015 but was vetoed by then-Mayor Richard Berry.