Santa Fe- Today the city of Santa Fe's City Clerk announced that the Reducing Marijuana Penalties Campaign submitted enough valid signatures to qualify for the city's citizen initiative process setting the stage to give voters in Santa Fe a vote on reducing marijuana penalties.
The Reducing Marijuana Penalties Campaign headed by Drug Policy Action and ProgressNow NM, submitted close to 11,000 signatures in 52 days, more than twice the number needed to qualify for the ballot. The initiative now goes before the City Council where the governing body has two options, vote for the ordinance change outright or send the initiative to the people for a vote. Not only will this be the first time in history that New Mexican’s will vote on reforming marijuana laws, it is the first time that the people of Santa Fe brought forth an issue via the City’s citizen initiative process. The Santa Fe city charter permits voters to petition their government for changes to city ordinances, including those relating to marijuana.
“The sheer number of supporters who signed the petition shows that the citizens of Santa Fe are ready for a change in how we police marijuana in our city and they are ready to make history,” said Emily Kaltenbach, State Director, Drug Policy Alliance. “Santa Feans want and can put an end to using taxpayers' dollars that could otherwise be used by law enforcement on more pressing crime; put an end to policies that scar low-level marijuana users with a serious criminal history that can prevent them from obtaining scholarships future job placement and a prosperous future; and, put an end to racially disproportionate marijuana arrests.”
This measure will eliminate jail time for the possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana and possession of marijuana paraphernalia for personal use and will result in no more than a simple $25 fine as well as make marijuana possession the lowest priority for the Santa Fe Police Department. Currently in Santa Fe, first time offenders "shall be punished by a fine of not less than fifty dollars ($50) or more than one hundred dollars ($100) and by imprisonment for not more than fifteen (15) days" for possession of marijuana and "a fine of not less than fifty dollars ($50) nor more than one hundred dollars ($100) or by imprisonment for a definite term of ninety (90) days, or both" for possessing paraphernalia.
State law remains unaffected by this change, though officers, judges and city leaders would have discretion in choosing which statutes to charge under.
Reducing marijuana penalties for adults is neither unique nor cutting edge. To date, sixteen states and the District of Columbia have reduced penalties for marijuana possession. As of today, over 120 million people, or 1/3 of the U.S. population, live in jurisdictions where marijuana has been essentially decriminalized – meaning there is no jail time associated with possession.
Momentum is building for federal reform too. The U.S. House has voted five times in recent months to let states set their own marijuana policies – once to prohibit the DEA from undermining state medical marijuana laws, twice to prohibit the DEA from undermining state laws allowing the production of hemp, and twice in support of allowing state-legalized marijuana stores to open checking accounts and access other financial services. Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have introduced bi-partisan legislation in the U.S. Senate to let states set their own medical marijuana policies. An amendment co-sponsored by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) allowing states to legalize hemp for research has passed the Senate Appropriations Committee.