Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Albuquerque City Council Votes 5 to 4 Approving Cannabis Decriminalization

On Monday evening, April 2nd 2018 the Albuquerque City Council voted to approve the proposed Ordinance O-18-12; "Amending The Criminal Code Of Albuquerque To Remove Marijuana Offenses And Related Penalties; Amending Chapter Eleven Of The Code Of Ordinances To Establish Civil Penalties For Possession Of One Ounce Or Less Of Marijuana Or Marijuana Paraphernalia". Next the Ordinance goes to Mayor Keller, who’s signature will make this law.

The proposed ordinance can be read here: https://cabq.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3363337&GUID=1A1AEED7-720D-49C6-A05C-EF71BDEB1535&Options=ID|Text|&Search=

Decriminalization does not mean that cannabis is legal, just that getting caught with it no longer results in jail time or a criminal record. Decriminalization means that a state or city has repealed or amended its laws to make certain acts criminal, but no longer subject to prosecution. In the cannabis context, this means individuals caught with small amounts of cannabis for personal consumption won’t be prosecuted and won’t subsequently receive a criminal record or a jail sentence. In many states, possession of small amounts of cannabis is treated like a minor traffic violation.

The new ordinance allows police to issue a $25 civil penalty for possession of an ounce or less of cannabis and associated paraphernalia passed by narrow 5 to 4 vote during the meeting. Following the vote, one Democrat on the Council let her prohibitionist views on cannabis be known and showing her ignorance on the subject of medical cannabis. Also in the ordinance, those who use medical cannabis in the states program may not be fined under the ordinance.

Councilors Pat Davis, Klarissa Peña, Ken Sanchez, Isaac Benton and Diane Gibson, all Democrats, voted in favor of the legislation. Davis and Benton where co- sponsors for the measure.

Republican Councilors Brad Winter, Trudy Jones and Don Harris and Democrat Cynthia Borrego opposed the ordinance.

Democrat Cynthia Borrego said, “she worried about the lack of regulation of marijuana, saying that illegally obtained marijuana could be laced with other drugs.”

Albuquerque will soon join the Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia that have decriminalized small amounts of cannabis, along with the over 54 Cities like; Santa Fe, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, and Orlando. This generally means certain small, personal-consumption amounts are a civil or local infraction, not a state crime (or are a lowest misdemeanor with no possibility of jail time). Decriminalization measures are written and enforced slightly differently depending on what state you’re in, but generally result in a system where cannabis possession is treated similarly to a speeding ticket.

For policy makers, in Albuquerque and in the Roundhouse, their priority should be so it’s clear, it should be removing the public health risks of cannabis prohibition. Those public health risks, like putting people in jail for victimless crimes, jeopardizing people's access to financial aid for higher education, jeopardizing people’s employment, and exposing people to a underground market that would increase their potential to access more harmful drugs.

All of those areas of harm reduction are ones that communities can see a public health improvement in, through the decriminalization of cannabis. And all of those issues can be achieved with a logical approach to decriminalization.

Form follows Function and Policy makers in New Mexico need to stop using the debate surrounding legalization of cannabis for recreational use to obscure the science and policy regarding the harm reduction achievements of decriminalizing cannabis and the medical use of cannabis. In today’s era of how legalization, cannabis taxation and financial profits of cannabis has spread, the distinction matters and this behoves policy makers to follow a process that achieves the greatest harm reduction. 

The newly passed ordinance now heads to Mayor Keller, who had shown support for decriminalizing and legalizing cannabis on the campaign trail.

“We’re focused on best prioritizing police resources for public safety, that may include initiatives to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana,” Keller spokeswoman Alicia Manzano said in an email to the Albuquerque Journal. “We will look for guidance from our police department on this and the Mayor will make an informed decision about the details of the bill when it reaches his desk.”