Last Minute Fumble

A move to get City Council to reverse its marijuana decriminalization vote fails

A quiet, last-minute attempt to get the Santa Fe City Council to reverse its vote last week to decriminalize marijuana has apparently come up short.

Santa Fe city spokesman Matt Ross says he talked with City Councilors Signe Lindell, Carmichael Dominguez and Peter Ives on Thursday and today about a possible special meeting for a new vote on the decriminalization ordinance, which changes the city's penalties for possession of one ounce of pot or less from a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to 15 days in prison and a $50-$100 fine to a civil infraction and a $25 penalty.

The ordinance also calls on the Santa Fe Police Department to make marijuana penalties the lowest law enforcement priority.

The idea would have been to strike down the city's new decriminalization ordinance and put it on the general election ballot as a question to Santa Fe voters this November, as was originally planned by organizers behind the Reduce Marijuana Penalties initiative earlier this summer.

Ross says that he talked with the councilors about what "some of the communications going forward" would be if the councilors decide to hold a special meeting. Those would include sending out notices to make sure the public was aware of a special meeting.

"I had several conversations with city councilors about a decision they were considering," Ross says.

City councilors need a 5-4 vote to call a special meeting, but Pat Davis, executive director of ProgressNow New Mexico, which helped spearhead the effort for a marijuana decriminalization ballot initiative for the November general election, says the votes aren't there to call a special meeting. Mayor Javier Gonzales also has the power to call a special meeting, but Ross says Gonzales has no plans to do so.

It's unclear who was behind the effort to reverse the decriminalization vote and move to put the question on the ballot. Both Dominguez and Councilor Ron Trujillo say they've heard from constituents who were upset they didn't have a chance to vote on it themselves. But both councilors, who voted for and against the proposal respectively, say they stand by their vote.

Trujillo, who says he voted against the policy because he wanted to send the question to the voters, nevertheless says the resulting vote to decriminalize is "democracy in action."

"I've been on the side of losing votes and I've been on the side of winning votes," he says. "You move on."

Dominguez adds that he thinks the new ordinance is good policy.

"I think we're giving a majority of people what they want," Dominguez says.

The same goes for Lindell, who also voted in favor of decriminalization.

"I got a text this morning about a special meeting and my text back was that I don't know anything about a special meeting," Lindell says.

Mayor Javier Gonzales, who said he supports decriminalization but wanted to send the question to voters, voted against the decriminalization measure along with Councilors Bill Dimas and Chris Rivera.

Both Davis and Emily Kaltenbach, state director of Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico, which also worked on the ballot initiative effort, say they were on the sidelines of the push for a revote.

"I heard this morning that there maybe was going to be a meeting and then there wasn't," Kaltenbach says. "I know that there were some stakeholders talking about it, but we haven't been involved."

Kaltenbach adds that her organization was "ecstatic" about the council's decriminalization vote last week and that she would be disappointed if it moved to reverse that vote.

Davis says some "community people" asked the mayor's office about a special meeting, but he says he's not sure who they were.

"We closed out our Santa Fe program," he says.

Davis adds that his organization is happy with the outcome in Santa Fe, but that having "20,000 to 30,000 people" vote for the policy in an election "is a much louder message than a 5-4 vote" from a progressive Santa Fe city council.

But city Councilor Patti Bushee, who voted for decriminalization last week, says she thinks more sinister motives were behind the last-ditch effort.

"I was disappointed to see that politics reared its ugly head again," Bushee says, referring to her heated race against Gonzales for mayor earlier this year.

Read SFR's cover story on the new decriminalization policy.

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