Opinion: Let Voters Decide On Pot Decriminalization

Bernalillo County Residents Should Be Allowed To Vote On Decriminalizing Marijuana

Joshua Lee
5 min read
Reefer Radness
(Robert Maestas)
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On Sept. 21, the Albuquerque City Council will be voting on a city ordinance to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, similar to legislation enacted by the City of Santa Fe last year. The bad news is that a similar bill made it all the way to Mayor Richard Berry’s desk last year, where he firmly vetoed it to smithereens.

Last November’s general election ballot contained a question: should marijuana be decriminalized in New Mexico? 59.52% of voters in Bernalillo County were in support of decriminalization, making proponents optimistic. But the good mayor has already said that
he’ll veto again. I’m sure he’s already stomping around his office, eyes rolling and teeth grinding as he waits to chew the thing up.

On a
YouTube video posted last August, Berry explains that he vetoed the bill in part because it included, “decriminalizing the posession of an illegal drug in our city.” There was no mention of why that would be bad, exactly. No references to health risks or worries about youth addiction, or whatever. Just: it’s illegal.

Let’s consider that perhaps Mayor Berry hasn’t been exposed to all of the facts concerning this controversial plant. Maybe his office doesn’t have an internet connection.

See, when I first smoked pot, there was no Google. All I had to go on was the wisdom imparted on me by my parents, Ronald Reagan and a mustached D.A.R.E. officer in the sixth grade. When the effects of the pot wore off I was relieved to find that I hadn’t murdered anyone, sold a baby for heroin or grown feathers.

Americans have grown up on a steady diet of disinformation and straight-out lies since the ‘30s. Remember then-presidential-candidate Ronald Reagan telling voters in a 1980 campaign speech that “leading medical researchers” had come to the conclusion that, “marijuana—pot, grass—whatever you want to call it—is probably the most dangerous drug in the United States”?

If he tried something like that today, he’d be laughed off his podium and straight into the stocks, because any brat with a data plan can easily find headlines like, “
Crime Down and Revenue Up In Colorado Since Start of Marijuana Legalization” (RT), or “US Government Says Cannabis Kills Cancer Cells” (The Telegraph) or “Can Medical Marijuana Curb the Heroin Epidemic?” (Raw Story) in about 30 seconds.

Let’s put the danger level of pot into perspective. According to a
2014 PubMed study, 63 to 99 people in the US die each year from extreme allergic reactions. Motorcycle fatalities number more than 4,000 per year since 2004. Marijuana overdose? According to the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales: a big fat zero.

To reach a toxic level, someone would have to smoke
40,000 times the amount of a regular dose—meaning the amount it usually takes to get them high. Compare that to the measly 26 glasses of water it would take to give a 165-lb person what’s called “fatal water intoxication.”

The only real danger in smoking pot is getting caught with it. Under New Mexico state law, holding under an ounce of dope will get you a fine of up to $100 and/or up to 15 days in jail. That may not sound too bad, but spending 2 weeks with actual criminals is just the start of the troubles facing any poor bastard who gets busted. They now have a criminal record to deal with.

“Once you get caught up in the criminal justice system, you have collateral consequences that follow you for the rest of your life. From trying to get a job, to housing, to child custody,” says Jessica Gelay, policy coordinator for the New Mexico office of the
Drug Policy Alliance, a national organization concerned with drug policy reform. “We work for people who have been disenfranchised by this drug war.”

The DPA supports the proposed city ordinance, which will make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana or possession of drug paraphernalia a civil infraction with a fine of $25. This won’t count as a criminal conviction and won’t carry any jail time with it.

Attached to the ordinance is a companion piece that will make enforcement of marijuana laws a low priority for police. Gelay says it’s “a ‘smart on crime’ approach. It’s a way to keep our law enforcement agencies focused on things that are more important.”

For the ordinance to get on a ballot, it has to first make it past the council and then get through the mayor. And according to his spokeswoman, it won’t.

Because just as the good mayor is obviously uninformed of the facts surrounding marijuana decriminalization, he is also plainly ignorant of his constituents’ desire to see it on a ballot. And the only way to let him know is to make a public comment at the city council meeting on Monday, Sept. 21 (Vincent E. Griego Council Chambers, basement level of the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Government Center, 1 Civic Plaza NW,) at 5pm. Calling
768-3100 is ok, too.

I hear voting is the best part of democracy. Mayor Berry should let us try it out.
Mr. Mayor, Put Down Your Pen

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