ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – The Albuquerque City Council voted Monday night to send the proposal to reduce marijuana penalties to the voters. It was a close vote of five to four along party lines, and it comes after a lot of back and forth and controversy.
The proposal would amend city law, and reduce penalties for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana to just a $25 fine and no jail time.
The group ProgressNow New Mexico led a petition to get the issue on the November ballot, but some discrepancies with the number of signatures needed, led to the council voting on the measure.
There are still major hurdles to get that proposal, and others on the November ballot. The mayor may veto them, and if not, there may be no space for them on what’s quickly become a jam-packed ballot.
Council President Ken Sanchez said he’s concerned that even though council wants voters to weigh in on important issues, they may not get to.
Albuquerque city councilors want five big initiatives to go to voters in the general election. But there’s a problem; the ballot can’t fit them all.
“It’s just a long ballot already, and at some point it actually does become a matter of, is there space on the piece of paper to fit these additional questions? And that’s what we’ll have to consider,” said Maggie Hart Stebbins, Bernalillo County Commissioner representing District 3.
According to the county clerk’s office, the 19-inch long, double-sided ballot will be full. There are 77 candidates, as well as state constitutional amendments, and county bond questions.
Add to that propositions the council wants on the ballot. Those include marijuana decriminalization, a 1/8th percent gross receipts tax increase to support mental health programs and the homeless, and a proposition to allow council members to approve and remove if necessary the police and fire chief.
Also on that list is a bond question to reauthorize Metropolitan Redevelopment Funds, and a proposition to amend the Ballot Initiative process regarding when special elections are held and how many signatures are required.
There are five issues grouped together in one resolution, which will now to go to Mayor R.J. Berry for approval.
“I would hope that one person would not stop that decision by the voters of this community, we must trust the will of the people, and the will of the voters,” said Council President, Ken Sanchez.
Mayor Berry’s Chief of Staff said the mayor does not agree with some of the propositions.
“I think the mayor absolutely wants to hear the voters’ opinion in any major issue, and these certainly are one of them,” said Gilbert Montaño, Chief of Staff. “Because of the confliction of the state statute with the marijuana initiative, because the tax increase, we are seriously evaluating vetoing the entire bill, and determining what’s going to be best.”
Montaño said if the marijuana initiative is approved, it would make the City of Albuquerque vulnerable to legal challenges, since it conflicts with state statute.
Montaño also said the mayor disagrees with a tax increase, adding, there was $17 million in the mayor’s most recent budget to address mental health concerns, and support social services.
If the mayor vetoes the resolution, voters won’t decide on any of it. If he decides not to veto, it’ll be up to Bernalillo County Commissioners to decide which issues make the ballot. The remaining propositions could go on a special election ballot.
“I think what’s so important with a general election, is you truly get the pulse of the community because you get a larger turnout, so I am hoping that we can get as many initiatives on the ballot as possible,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez said he wants to avoid special elections on important issues because there’s usually less voter-turnout, and because they’re expensive. A special election usually costs about $500,000.
If it’s left to Bernalillo County Commissioners to pick which issues go to voters, Hart Stebbins said they’ll consider which are urgent, and what the community wants to see.
“It’s unfortunate that the public is in this seemingly precarious situation,” said Montaño. “But we’ll wait to see what the council provides us, and ultimately the mayor will decide which path we take.”
The county clerk said they cannot add another piece of paper, because the system isn’t set up for more than one ballot.
Once Mayor Berry receives the resolution, he’ll have 10 days to take action.