ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Mayor Richard Berry’s veto of a marijuana decriminalization bill withstood a challenge from Albuquerque city councilors on Wednesday.
Democrats on the City Council failed to persuade one of their Republican colleagues to change positions and join them in favor of a veto override.
But no one changed positions. The override attempt failed on a 5-4 vote along party lines.
It takes six of nine councilors to override a mayoral veto.
About a half-dozen speakers urged councilors to override the veto and enact 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.
A companion bill sought to make marijuana a low priority for law enforcement.
Berry, a Republican, vetoed both proposals. He said they conflicted with state and federal law.
Councilors Isaac Benton and Rey Garduño, who co-sponsored the legislation, said cities have authority to set their own penalties for marijuana possession. That gives police officers discretion to cite people under either a local ordinance or under state law, they said.
Furthermore, the two argued, local voters already support reducing marijuana penalties.
“We don’t have to wait for the federal government or the state of New Mexico to tell us how to govern our own community, or respond to the voice of the community,” Benton said as he read a joint statement.
About 60 percent of Bernalillo County voters last year expressed support for decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. That was in response to a nonbinding question on the general-election ballot.
None of the council’s four Republicans spoke about the veto Wednesday. But they’ve previously said they don’t view city government as the right venue for changing drug laws.
That didn’t stop people from trying to change their minds.
Mike Blessing of the Libertarian Party of New Mexico told councilors they were supporting organized crime if they refuse to change the law. Support for an override, however, means “you’re standing up for free markets,” Blessing said.
Other supporters said that a marijuana conviction can make it hard to find a job and that enforcement draws resources away from more-serious crimes.
“The war on drugs has been a terrible failure,” Garduño said. “We know this isn’t working.”
In New Mexico, marijuana use is legal only for medical purposes.
Supporting the override were Benton, Garduño, Ken Sanchez, Diane Gibson and Klarissa Peña, all Democrats.
Republicans Brad Winter, Dan Lewis, Trudy Jones and Don Harris voted “no.”