Albuquerque just became the second city in New Mexico to decriminalize cannabis, joining Sante Fe, which made the move four years ago. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller signed the bill Thursday, removing the criminal penalties for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana.
The legislation, passed last week by city councilors, replaces possible jail time with a $25 civil fine. The new law will take effect next week. It is still a criminal offense under state and federal law.
“Removing the criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana will free up precious resources for law enforcement, who have plenty on their plate already,” said Keller. “We’re facing real challenges in Albuquerque and this is a step in the right direction to allow our officers the flexibility to better prioritize their time tackling violent crime and property crime in our city.”
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Police Chief Mike Geier voiced his support, saying, “This new legislation allows officers to focus on violent crime, property crime and drunk driving. It’s important for the public to be aware that this does not change state or federal law and officers will still have a choice to pursue criminal charges when appropriate.”
In 2016, city police filed 177 reports for marijuana possession. The number of police reports dropped to 120 in 2017.
A similar decriminalization was passed by the city council in 2015, but then-Mayor Richard Berry vetoed the bill. “I hope this move encourages other cities to follow our lead, and more importantly I hope it sends a message to legislators in Santa Fe and Washington that repealing criminal cannabis laws is good politics and good policy,” said City Councilor Pat Davis, who co-authored the legislation.
Before the new law, a person caught possessing marijuana could spend more than two weeks in jail for a first offense and 90 days for a subsequent offense. “Albuquerque is sending a strong message that we should not be arresting people for possessing small amounts of marijuana for personal use,” said Emily Kaltenbach, New Mexico state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “I am very confident that decriminalizing marijuana possession in Albuquerque will take us one step closer to reforming marijuana laws at a state level. As we work towards making possession of marijuana for personal use legal in a taxed and regulated system in New Mexico, nobody should be going for jail for what is legal for adults just a few hundred miles north in Colorado.”
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, more than one-third of the U.S. population lives in jurisdictions where marijuana has been essentially decriminalized.