Push for voters to decide reduced pot penalties

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – There is a new push to let people caught with a small amount of pot off easy in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Tuesday petitions were filed to let voters decide if marijuana penalties should be reduced.

If voters passed the measure, people caught with less than one ounce of marijuana and paraphernalia in Albuquerque and Santa Fe would no longer face jail time and would only pay a $25 fine.

Currently people caught in Albuquerque face up to a $50 fine or up to 15 days in jail for the first offense, and up to a $500 fine and 90 days in jail when they’re caught again.

Santa Fe’s ordinance is similar.

The groups Progress Now New Mexico and Drug Policy action are behind the push to change the law.

They said officers have better things to do than going after low-level marijuana users. The group also said the current law hits poorer communities and young people the hardest.

“What it’s going to do instead of creating a problem where somebody might go to jail for being a low level recreational marijuana user they can pay a fine like a traffic ticket and move on about their life,” Pat Davis, Progress Now NM, said. “They don’t have to worry about that hanging over their head forever when it comes to get scholarships or jobs… And or we’re going to save millions in public safety money so officers can focus on more serious crimes.”

However, state law still stands and it includes jail time.

City Councilor Don Harris says that’s a problem.

“Really this is pretty meaningless because any police officer can choose to cite under state law than city ordinance… I assume that’s what they do anyway.” Harris said.

The groups agree officers, judges and city leaders would have discretion in choosing whether to charge someone under city or state law.

City councilors say the groups will need to collect about 20,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot in Albuquerque alone.

They say they will work through the summer to get it done.

If enough signatures are collected, the measure would either end up on the November ballot, or a special election would have to be held.

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