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City now says Santa Fe officers have had tickets for non-criminal pot violations since January; criminal charges filed instead

The Santa Fe Police Department now says its officers have had the proper citation forms for issuing non-criminal, civil violation tickets for possession of small amounts of marijuana for more than two months.

Earlier this week, an SFPD spokeswoman said the ticket forms were made available to officers only within the last month, but she corrected that statement on Wednesday. A police officers union official had said Tuesday that the forms were only given to officers in the last week.

Santa Fe police have continued to charge pot possession violators under a state criminal statute rather than using the decriminalization ordinance passed by the City Council in August.

Santa Fe police have continued to charge pot possession violators under a state criminal statute rather than using the decriminalization ordinance passed by the City Council in August.

The City Council passed an ordinance decriminalizing possession of an ounce or less of marijuana in August. The ordinance makes the violation a civil nuisance offense punishable by no more than $25.

As reported in Wednesday’s Journal  a check of police records by the Journal shows that no civil violations for pot possession have been issued by police since November. Instead, officers continue to charge violators with a criminal offense under state law, punishable by up to 15 days in jail and a fine of up to $100.

City Council Joseph Maestas told the Journal this week that it was troubling that officers, while they have the legal option to charge either under the new city ordinance or under state law, are not following the decriminalization policy set by the City Council.

Below is the full Journal article on this issue published Wednesday.

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SANTA FE – Last summer, the Santa Fe City Council took action to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, making it a civil nuisance violation under city law as opposed to a criminal charge under a coexisting state statute.

But it appears Santa Fe police officers, who retained the discretion to cite offenders under either law, lately have been ignoring the city ordinance altogether.

The difference is significant. Those charged under state law face a criminal petty misdemeanor – punishable by up to 15 days in jail and fines up to $100 – that remains on a person’s record.

GARCIA: Says officers can use their discretion

GARCIA: Says officers can use their discretion

Under the ordinance, offenders are charged with a civil violation subject to a maximum $25 fine.

Documents obtained through a public records request and a search of online court records indicate that Santa Fe police officers haven’t issued a citation under the city ordinance for nearly five months. Since Nov. 5, when the last verifiable citation was issued under the city ordinance, there have been more than 70 charges under the state statute.

“I understand that it’s an option,” City Councilor Joseph Maestas said of the discretion city police officers have to cite offenders under either law, “but it’s troubling to me that policy hasn’t been fully accepted to the degree of full implementation.

“I see legislation passed by the City Council as policy, and I would expect police officers to strive to follow it. I’d like to know what are the reasons behind it, and what guidance and direction has been given by police leadership regarding the city law.”

Asked for comment, Police Chief Eric Garcia said through a spokeswoman, “We encourage our personnel to take advantage of this initiative, but the officers still have discretion as to which court to utilize.”

MAESTAS: City councilor troubled by trend

MAESTAS: City councilor troubled by trend

The reason police union president Matt Martinez gave for the lack of citations under the ordinance is the same one the city provided in November – that officers haven’t had new citation forms for charging violators with the municipal civil infraction, because the forms hadn’t been printed.

“They pretty much had no choice but to cite them as criminal in magistrate court because they were waiting for the city to come out with the new forms,” he said.

Martinez noted that until last November cases involving possession of an ounce or less of marijuana that were cited under the city’s own former criminal misdemeanor ordinance were being tossed out of Santa Fe Municipal Court for lack of jurisdiction, after the City Council approved decriminalization.

Martinez said the new civil violation forms were only received about a week ago. A police department spokeswoman confirmed that the forms were issued to officers “within the last month.”

“Now that the civil citations have come out,” officers will begin issuing the civil citations for pot possession, Martinez said.

When told of this explanation, Councilor Maestas said he was “embarrassed” that it has taken so long for citations to be printed to reflect the decriminalization ordinance, which was approved by the council Aug. 27.

Councilor Patti Bushee’s response was to say, “That sounds like a poor excuse.”

115 cases

Over a seven-month period from Aug. 28 to March 21, SFPD issued 115 citations or charges to people for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana or drug paraphernalia. Initially, during the months of September and October, the number of citations issued under the new decriminalization ordinance and charges for violations of the criminal state statute were fairly evenly split, with 18 people cited under the statute and 17 under the new ordinance.

But the civil citations under the new city law appear to have completely stopped after Nov. 5.

Most of those cited during the time period were young people, the average age being under 25 years old. Of the 115 citations, only about 27 were issued to people age 30 or older. About 16 minors were cited, in one case as young as 12 years old.

Many of the pot violations came during traffic stops when officers detected the odor of marijuana while interacting with the driver. About 50 resulted from activity that took place along the Cerrillos Road corridor.

The most came during the month of November, when there were 21 cases. February was the least active month, with nine violations for marijuana or paraphernalia.

Initially one officer, Ladislas Szabo, was making far and away more the most pot cases – both under the statute and the ordinance. He has since been promoted to detective, the SFPD spokeswoman said.

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