The Santa Fe Board of County Commissioners voted Tuesday afternoon to put a marijuana ballot reform initiative on the city ballot this fall.
The measure, which would ask Santa Fe city voters to reduce local law enforcement penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana, is contingent on what the City Council decides during Wednesday's 7pm meeting.
County commissioners Kathy Holian, Miguel Chavez, Liz Stefanics and Danny Mayfield all voted in favor of the measure, which allows Santa Fe County Manager Katherine Miller to sign a memorandum of understanding allowing the question to be placed on the ballot for city voters this fall. Commissioner Robert Anaya wasn't present for the vote.
The memorandum of understanding must also be signed by the Santa Fe city manager, city clerk, county clerk and New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran. Duran attended the meeting and expressed her office's concerns about the potential ballot initiative. Mainly, Duran says the initiative is too long to be placed on a single city ballot that would also include statewide and local offices.
The entire proposed ordinance change to decriminalize marijuana would take up three pages, says Secretary of State Director of Elections Bobbi Shearer, raising the question of whether it would fit on a single-page ballot during the November general election. This is important, both Duran and Shearer say, because they're unsure whether conventional balloting machines could take ballots of multiple pages.
"Typically with a [state] constitutional amendment, you see a title and just, 'Yes or no,'" Shearer says. "[Santa Fe's] city charter says the entire ordinance needs to go on the ballot."
Both added that possible alternatives to get around this problem include a special election or a separate ballot on Election Day, which Duran says would require the city to request separate voting machines from the county.
Duran and Shearer raised these concerns to the County Commission just before the vote. Duran, a Republican who faces a challenger for reelection this November, stressed that her office wasn't at the meeting to speak for or against the proposed decriminalization measure, but rather to make sure the commission was aware of all of the potential problems going forward. She added that her office has a deadline to certify all state ballots on Sept. 9.
"We need communication going forward regardless of what happens," she said.
Critics paint the ballot initiative as a ploy to turn out liberal voters during November's general election, but advocates say that the measure is meant to shift law enforcement resources away from petty marijuana crimes. The initiative would ask voters to lower the city's penalties of possessing one ounce of marijuana or less from a misdemeanor punishable by potential prison time to a civil infraction and $25 fee.
Emily Kaltenbach, state director of Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico, asked the commission to favor the will of the voters. The decriminalization campaign submitted 11,000 signatures collected over the summer from city and county residents asking to put the question on the ballot.
"Today is really not about voting in favor of marijuana reform," Kaltenbach told commissioners. "It's about voting in favor of the voter."
Santa Fe City Attorney Kelley Brennan also attended the meeting and told commissioners that the city had asked them to vote in favor of putting the question on the ballot while officials work out the nitty gritty later.
"We understand that there are significant logistical details," she said.
Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar echoed that point, adding that her office needs see if it can issue 22-inch ballots to fit the question as opposed to the standard 17-inch ballots.
"This may be doable," Salazar said. "We run elections, we face challenges every day."
Read the county resolution below: