Councilors try again to lower Albuquerque pot penalties

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Should Albuquerque lower the penalties for carrying small amounts of pot? It’s been debated before, but this time, two city councilors think they have new momentum from voters.

“People have spoken,” said Councilor Isaac Benton of Albuquerque City Council.

“We heard loud and clear,” said Councilor Rey Garduño, president of Albuquerque City Council.

However, there’s still one major road block, because the bill may not be able to get past Albuquerque’s mayor.

“I will be vetoing a bill,” said Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry about a similar pot decriminalization bill that came across his desk in 2014.

Those are three opinions over what Albuquerque should do in regards to small amounts of marijuana, something more Americans are changing their mind about. Now for the second time in the last year, city council is expected to decide whether people caught with small amounts of pot should face lower penalties.

“I think so and that’s the hope,” said Garduño about his hopes for passing the new pot penalty bill he’s proposed.

Council President Garduño has proposed the latest ordinance and resolution on pot penalties with fellow councilor Isaac Benton. The new bill would change city ordinance to let police give just a $25 ticket to a person caught with an ounce of pot or less.

“I definitely wanted to support it,” said Councilor Benton.

Councilors backing it say it’s less hassle for people and police officers in dealing with what the councilors call a “low level crime.”

“It’s about allocating our precious police resource,” said Councilor Benton.

“This is to say, young people, we’re not here to catch you, we’re not here to criminalize you,” said Councilor Garduño.

However, Mayor Richard J. Berry vetoed the same type of bill last year.

“Flying in the face of federal and state law, pertaining to the decriminalization and possession of an illegal drug,” said Mayor Berry.

After the veto, a November “advisory question” (poll question) appeared on the Bernalillo County ballot, asking voters if they would support an effort to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot. The measure passed with about 60% of the vote.

KRQE News 13 asked Mayor R.J. Berry if the results of that vote have changed his opinion. A spokeswoman for Mayor Berry said the Friday that the Mayor would still veto any similar legislation.

“I do hope that the mayor will reconsider his position,” said Councilor Benton.

The five democratic councilors will likely need one Republican vote to override the mayor’s veto. KRQE News 13 called all four Republicans on the council on Friday night including councilors Dan Lewis, Brad Winter, Trudy Jones and Don Harris. However, none of the councilors returned the calls.

Councilor Garduño’s bill will be introduced to Albuquerque City Council next week. The council is expected to vote on the bill on September 21, 2015 at the earliest. Councilors need six votes to override the mayor’s veto.

KRQE News 13 also asked Albuquerque Police for comment on the proposed ordinance, which calls for making small amounts of marijuana a “low priority” for enforcement. The department says it already is.

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