Councilor pushes for vote on pot penalties

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – For two months, Progress Now New Mexico pushed to get reduced penalties for marijuana on November’s ballot. Then a curveball from the city clerk sent their efforts up in smoke, and now a city councilor is stepping in.

As Albuquerque city councilors returned to their chambers Monday night, Councilor Rey Garduño introduced a proposal to get the issue to the voters.

“I think overwhelming evidence speaks to the fact that nationally and statewide, people are in favor of decriminalizing marijuana, especially an ounce or less,” said Garduño.

“It’s like you’re playing the game, you start to put points on the board and somebody moves the goalpost,” Patrick Davis with Progress Now New Mexico said.

In an effort to reduce penalties on an ounce or less of marijuana and paraphernalia, Progress Now gathered thousands of signatures to take to the city clerk in hopes of taking it to the voters in November.

“This has been a roller coaster from day one from this campaign,” Davis said.

Then there was an error.
Davis said the city clerk gave them the wrong number of signatures needed. Rather than a little more than 11,000 signatures, they needed a little more than 14,000, a number based on the last mayoral election.

The city admits it made a mistake. “That’s unfair for everyone, but we want to make sure if that’s not going to happen that way, then we need to give the public the opportunity to vote on it,” said Garduño.

“That hurts a lot of people who put a lot of work into this, a lot of money a lot of time and 16,000 voters who said we want to do this,” Davis said.

Still, it’s unclear if the group would have had enough valid signatures to get it on the ballot. At Monday’s meeting, the acting city clerk said they’ve verified at least 7,000 signatures, and they’re still counting. Either way, the issue may still go to voters.

City Council President Ken Sanchez gave KRQE News 13 his take on the whole thing.

“I kind of anticipated this was coming especially with the error that occurred with the city clerk and the city attorney,” Sanchez said.

Garduño’s proposal cites a similar situation when city councilors stepped in on the red light camera issue. Voters said the city should stop using them, so councilors then passed an ordinance.

“Let’s let the public weigh in on this during a general election,” Davis said.

But some city councilors argue this is a political ploy, to affect voter turnout in the general election. “This is a city ordinance, an ordinance with the intent to affect a statewide election and I don’t think that’s right to mess with a city ordinance like that,” said councilor Dan Lewis. Lewis claims it’s also in violation of state law.

Associate Political Science Professor with UNM, Gabriel Sanchez, recalled the late-term abortion ban, which generated more voter turnout than the mayoral election.

“In this context, I suppose the assumption is it’s going to get liberal voters out in full force, but this actually could be a backlash effect for liberals and you could see a lot of conservative voters turnout to make sure this doesn’t pass,” explained Sanchez.

As it stands now, anyone busted with an ounce or less marijuana faces up to a $50 fine and 15 days in jail.

The proposal would make it simply a $25 fine and no time behind bars.

If voters were to approve such a measure, it would still have to go back to city councilors for a vote.

City Councilor Dan Lewis said he thinks this is jumping the gun, and Councilor Don Harris said as it stands, the proposal will not get his vote.

City councilors are set to vote on the proposal at the August 18th city council meeting. They need a simple majority of five votes for it to go to the next step.

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