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Mayor vetoes proposal for pot decriminalization

Mayor Richard Berry


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Citing his oath of office, Mayor Richard Berry vetoed legislation Wednesday that sought to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

He also rejected a companion proposal – to make marijuana a low priority for law enforcement.

Berry, a Republican, said the oath of office he took included a promise to uphold the law.

“I just have hard time signing any legislation that pre-empts state and federal law, whether it's marijuana or any other issue,” Berry told reporters Wednesday.

The City Council doesn't appear to have enough votes to override the veto. The marijuana legislation won approval on a 5-4 vote last week, along party lines, with Democrats in the majority. It takes six of nine votes to override a veto.

Emily Kaltenbach, state director for the advocacy group Drug Policy Alliance, said she and other supporters will continue the fight, both at the state level and by trying to get an opposing city councilor to change positions.

Councilors Isaac Benton and Rey Garduño, both Democrats, sponsored the legislation, which called for making it a civil offense, not a criminal violation, under city law to possess an ounce or less of marijuana.

Officers still would have had discretion, however, to issue citations under state law – the penalties for which can include up to 15 days in jail and fines up to $100 as a criminal petty misdemeanor.

Marijuana decriminalization was popular among Bernalillo County voters last year. About 60 percent expressed support for decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The vote was in response to a nonbinding question on the general-election ballot.

Benton and Garduño said it's clear the community supports a reduction in marijuana penalties. Furthermore, they say, a criminal record for marijuana possession can harm someone's ability to get a job or housing.

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