Albuquerque Considers Decriminalizing Marijuana

On Monday, Albuquerque city councilors Pat Davis and Isaac Benton announced a new proposal to largely de-criminalize recreational marijuana possession. If this move succeeds, Albuquerque would join cities such as Orlando, FL and Pittsburgh, PA that have de-criminalized recreational weed but haven’t officially legalized it for all residents yet.

The Davis/Benton proposal would change the city’s criminal code so that city residents who are found to have small amounts of recreational cannabis (or equipment for smoking it) would not face any jail time or significant fines. Possessing an ounce or less of marijuana without a valid Medical Cannabis Card would result in a fine of $25 but no criminal conviction record.

“The last thing our police officers want and the last thing our residents want is to be waiting on backup or another police officer who’s doing paperwork on a marijuana crime that, quite frankly, the majority of the city thinks should be legal.” — Pat Davis

Under the current law, first-time offenders holding an ounce or less face misdemeanor prosecution. They could go to jail for up to 15 days and be fined up to $100. Second-time offenders can go to jail for up to a year and be fined $1000. More important, those with a marijuana possession conviction on their records often face barriers in finding housing or work, obtaining student loans, and they could be blocked from adopting a child. The new proposal would remedy those problems.

People found with more than 8 ounces of cannabis would still face felony prosecution. First-time offenders could be fined up to $5,000 and could go to jail for 18 months; subsequent offenses result in more severe punishments. Anyone caught growing marijuana without a license could be fined up to $10,000 and sent to jail for 9 years. Supporters of the Davis/Benton proposal who work in law enforcement say that decriminalization would free up police resources to pursue more serious crimes.

In 2007, New Mexico legalized medical cannabis through the passage of the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act (Senate Bill 523). It became the 12th state in the U.S. to allow for medical marijuana use. Under their medical cannabis laws, card-holding patients can possess up to 230 units (approximately 8 ounces) over a three-month period and can purchase cannabis and paraphernalia from licensed non-profit producers. Patients can also apply for a personal production license (PPL) so that they can grow cannabis for their own use. PPL holders can have up to sixteen plants: 4 mature (flowering) and 12 seedlings. 

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