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SF County Commission to consider pot decriminalization advisory question as Bernalillo County did

The Santa Fe Board of County Commissioners is expected to vote Tuesday afternoon on whether to put a marijuana question on the general election ballot. But it's not a question that will necessarily lead to action.

The deliberations would be part the latest angle in

to send marijuana decriminalization ballot initiatives to the November election ballots in both Santa Fe and Albuquerque: advisory questions.

Santa Fe County Commissioner Liz Stefanics now wants to ask voters whether the County Commission should support marijuana decriminalization. The vote would be non-binding, meaning it would serve as a policy recommendation to the governing body and nothing more.

The Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners narrowly approved a similar decriminalization advisory question by a 3-2 vote in its Monday meeting. Decriminalization advocates say such questions put voters on record supporting the policy and could lead to change in the long run.

"These questions give voters—all county voters, not just those in the city—a voice on the issue and, if passed, would likely set in motion a movement to lobby the legislature in January," writes Pat Davis, executive director of ProgressNow New Mexico, in an email.

Both ProgressNow and the lobbying arm of Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico spearheaded the citywide ballot initiatives in May. The Albuquerque city clerk didn't approve enough signatures gathered by the the initiative's organizers while the Santa Fe City Council last month moved to approve the decriminalization policy outright without sending the question to the voters. The rule goes into effect on Wednesday.

Late last week, efforts failed that would have urged City Council to change direction before the ordinance became officials.

At the Bernalillo County Commission meeting, the Secretary of State's Office continued to raise concerns about putting such a question on the ballot.

"The advisory questions do not meet constitutional or statutory obligations," said Albuquerque attorney Rob Doughty, who was contracted by Secretary of State Dianna Duran, a Republican.

Commissioner Wayne Johnson, who voted against sending the advisory question on the ballot, cited a 2012 opinion by New Mexico Attorney General Gary King stating that municipalities don't have the authority to place municipal questions on statewide general election ballots.

"Nevertheless, a municipality may submit a question to voters of the municipality on a municipal election ballot in a municipal election on the same day as a general election," the opinion reads.

"To my knowledge, we haven't received a request to run a concurrent election on election day," Johnson said at the meeting.

Johnson's concerns didn't take into account the fact that King's 2012 opinion revolved around municipalities, not counties. Additionally, the state attorney general's opinions are also non-binding.

Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat who is running against Duran in for secretary of state in November, cited a more recent opinion by King's office—delivered last Friday—that concludes that counties "may propose a question on the statewide general election ballot that does not carry the force of law."

Two weeks ago, Duran went before the Santa Fe County Commission to raise concerns that a potential citywide decriminalization ballot initiative wouldn't be able to fit on the general election ballot. That's because Santa Fe's governing city charter requires full ordinance changes to be posted on the ballot. Duran testified that such lengthy language would take up to three pages.

The countywide advisory question, however, would be limited to a single question, making things much simpler, says Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar.

"If the Santa Fe Board of County Commissioners should vote for this question, it appears to me that it would be easily inserted in the ballot," Salazar says.

Salazar adds that putting the advisory question on all county ballots would be much easier than putting an ordinance question on just city ballots.

The Santa Fe County Commission meeting will be held Tuesday at 2 pm.

Read the Attorney General's latest opinion:

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