A marijuana decriminalization ballot initiative will make its way to Santa Fe voters this fall after all.
This afternoon, the Santa Fe County Commission voted unanimously to put an advisory question on the November general election ballot asking voters' opinions on decriminalizing marijuana countywide. Yesterday, the Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to put a similar question on its ballot.
The questions, which are legally non-binding to both counties, will simply poll residents about whether they want local elected officials to reduce penalties for those who get caught in possession of one ounce of marijuana or less. It's the latest step in a summer-long push to get voters in Santa Fe and Albuquerque to weigh in on the issue this November.
Santa Fe County Commissioner Liz Stefanics said she introduced the advisory question after receiving a "direct request" to do so by some of the ballot initiative's organizers who want to get the question to a vote. Commissioner Kathy Holian asked to be listed as a cosponsor at the meeting.
"It is a drug, but it is definitely not a hardcore drug," Holian said of marijuana shortly before her vote. "I have to admit, particularly everybody I knew when I was in college used marijuana, and I know of no person for whom it was a gateway drug to more hardcore drugs."
The move comes on the heels of the vote last month by Santa Fe's City Council to approved scaled-back penalties for pot within the city limits as requested by signatories on a petition drive. Before that, the Albuquerque city clerk had rejected too many collected signatures to put a question on its city ballot. Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry also recently vetoed a similar non-binding citywide advisory question that the city council approved last month.
Minimal concerns were raised, specifically by Commissioner Robert Anaya that the county already treated low-level marijuana offenses as a low priority. But he voted in favor of the advisory question after saying that the method could be a useful way to gauge voters' opinions on many issues.
"The good thing associated with this particular discussion and resolution is that it is affording us the ability to engage in another tool to solicit feedback," Anaya said at the meeting.
Many Republicans have decried the votes as a tactic to bring out liberal and left-leaning voters to the polls for the upcoming midterm election, which traditionally features lower turnout than when the president's office is at stake. Emily Kaltenbach, state director of Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico, says the real purpose of the vote is that it will demonstrate the shifting popular opinion on marijuana, which will gives better potential for broader statewide marijuana reform come January, when the state legislative session begins.
"We'll have a greater understanding of the breadth of support than if we just had this issue voted on by our elected officials," Kaltenbach says.