The Santa Fe City Council voted five to four in favor of reclassifying the possession of less than one ounce (28 grams) of cannabis as a misdemeanor on Wednesday, making the New Mexico state capital the latest U.S. city to decriminalize marijuana.
The city council originally expected to send the issue to voters in November after marijuana activists delivered thousands of petition signatures earlier this week and a five-member county commission subsequently approved the ballot measure. Instead, city lawmakers opted to put the issue to a council vote and adjust the law outright. The new regulation will take effect in 30 days.
Under current law, criminal penalties for marijuana possession range from a $50-$100 fine and up to 15 days in jail. Under the decriminalization statute, penalties for marijuana possession will call for a civil citation of a currently undetermined amount.
Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzalez, despite his approval of the law’s adjustment, cast a dissenting vote on Wednesday. “I have been in favor of decriminalization all along,” he said, “I just wanted this to be on the November ballot in order for citizens to make the decision.”
Gonzalez was not alone in his desire to see the issue go to the voters. Emily Kaltenbach, the New Mexico director of drug-law reform group Drug Policy Alliance, worked closely with activists to obtain 11,000 signatures to put the issue on the ballot. Additionally, through internal polling, Kaltenbach had estimated that some 70% of Santa Fe citizens supported decriminalization. And though their hard work was in a sense subverted by the city council’s decisive action, “It still is an historic win for us all,” she said.
Historically, New Mexico was the first state to pass legislation recognizing the medical value of cannabis with the 1978 Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Act. It was not until 2007, however, that the state House and Senate passed the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, which gave approved patients the right to begin medicating with marijuana.
Santa Fe now follows in the footsteps of Washington D.C., who decriminalized possession of less than one ounce of cannabis earlier this year, and is expected to vote on the issue of straight-out legalization this November. Also in November, the states of Alaska and Oregon will be voting on legalization, while, in both Florida and Guam, voters will be addressing the creation of their own respective medical marijuana markets.
Colorado and Washington State have been enjoying their own experiments with regulated recreational marijuana this year, which were founded in successful voter initiatives from 2012.
Photo Credit: Richie Diesterheft
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