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Santa Fe clerk: marijuana decriminalization petition contains enough valid signatures

SANTA FE, N.M. — The city clerk in Santa Fe confirmed Monday that a petition calling for the reduction of penalties for people caught in possession of small amounts of marijuana contains enough valid signatures to move the measure forward. Proponents are aiming to have the question appear on the ballot for Santa Fe voters during the November general election.

City Clerk Yolanda Vigil said her office has verified 5,754 valid signatures of registered Santa Fe voters. The petition required 5,673 valid signatures, which was based on one-third of the voter turnout in the March mayoral election.

Vigil said a total of 10,925 signatures of people supporting the proposal were turned into her office over the course of the past month. Most of the 5,171 signatures that were purged were done so because the names or addresses on the petition were from outside the city limits, didn’t match voting records, weren’t names of registered voters, or were illegible, she said.

The petition drive was led by ProgressNow New Mexico and the Drug Police Alliance of New Mexico.

Organizers said they were excited to see their initiative become the first to advance since the city adopted rules for a citizen initiative in its city charter in 2008.

“The important part is we’re making history in Santa Fe and around the state — that people are ready to have a voice in marijuana reform,” Emily Kaltenbach, state director of Drug Policy Alliance, said.

Kaltenbach said Santa Feans would rather see their taxpayer dollars be spent by law enforcement for more pressing crimes. As it is, those caught in possession could suffer the consequences of having the charge mar their criminal records and prevent them from getting hired for a job or obtaining a scholarship, she said.

Even though nearly half the signatures were thrown out, Pat Davis of ProgressNow New Mexico said the number of people who signed is testament to changing attitudes about marijuana reform.

“We had close to 11,000 names — twice what was required to get this done,” he said. “It shows that people are really excited about this.”

The next step is for the County Commission to take action at its Aug. 26 meeting to allow the question to appear on the November ballot.

“I think that’s more of a formality than anything,” Kaltenbach said.

Any action taken by the Commission that day would be contingent on what happens the following day when the matter comes before the City Council. The Council will hold a public hearing on the proposal during its Aug. 27 meeting, at which time a public hearing will be held.

The Council will then have the option of taking action to have the question put to voters, or it could potentially approve it themselves on the spot.

“We don’t anticipate any problems,” Davis said of getting the question placed on the November ballot. “We don’t anticipate the (County) Commission would disenfranchise their voters by not allowing this. The legal questions and concerns of the Secretary of State and that others have brought up have been resolved.”

The county clerk has said that any action taken by the Commission would have to be done by Sept. 9, the deadline to have the ballot finalized for printing.

Currently in Santa Fe, first-time offenders in possession of less than an ounce of marijuana are charged with a petty misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $50 to $100 and imprisonment of not more than 15 days. The proposal calls for possession to be treated as a civil infraction, requiring no jail time and punishable by a fine of no more than $25.

State and federal law would be unaffected by the change, if it were approved. Police officers would have discretion as to whether to charge violations under a city ordinance, handled in municipal court, or under state statute, adjudicated in magistrate court.

However, the petition called for possession of small amounts of marijuana and instruments used to ingest it to be considered “a lowest law enforcement priority.”

A similar petition effort in Albuquerque failed to achieve the required number of valid signatures.

There, 14,218 valid signatures were required to trigger an election on the issue, but only 9,172 were approved as valid by the city clerk.

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