Santa Fe’s drug policies catching up to the state

The city is on track to pass legislation that would remove threat of jail time for drug paraphernalia convictions

In 2019, New Mexico made national news when it became the 24th state in the country to decriminalize the position small amounts of marijuana and of drug paraphernalia.

But under the Santa Fe city code, possession of drug paraphernalia is still a petty misdemeanor, and those convicted can still face jail time.

This could change in the coming weeks as a proposal to amend the city law makes its way through the committee process.

The Quality of Life Committee approved the measure Wednesday night. It is scheduled for a public hearing before the City Council on Jan. 13.

If passed, the amendment would reclassify the possession, delivery or manufacture of drug paraphernalia from a petty misdemeanor to a penalty assessment. This means that the charges would no longer be jailable offenses and offenders would no longer have to face the possibility of having a drug paraphernalia conviction on their criminal records.

According to a fiscal impact report by the city, the Santa Fe Police Department issued 127 drug paraphernalia citations between 2018 and 2019 that brought in $1,928 in fines. The amendment, which would set the fine per citation at $50, is projected to increase that amount by a few hundred dollars per year.

However, the impact on offenders could be substantial. According to drug policy reform advocates, decriminalization is an important step to treating substance use and breaking the cycle of inter-generational addiction.

"Decriminalizing drug paraphernalia will not only save taxpayers money and free up law enforcement resources—it will prioritize health and safety over punishment and begin to reduce the stigma associated with problematic drug use," said Emily Kaltenbach, the New Mexico state director of the Drug Policy Allegiance, in a press release regarding the state's passage of similar legislation in 2019.

"Since many items that are characterized as paraphernalia have multiple uses, these laws have been subject to abuse, allowing police to be very selective in their enforcement—disproportionately harming black, brown and Native communities."

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