A move to decriminalize cannabis in the city, zoning code issues, autism awareness and safer school crossings dominated the April 2 meeting of the Albuquerque City Council.
Albuquerque City Councilors barely approved a measure to decriminalize possession of an ounce or less of marijuana. The measure, if signed by Mayor Tim Keller, replaces the city’s criminal ordinance with a civil one carrying a $25 civil fine. Currently, those in possession of an ounce or less of marijuana could be arrested, sentenced to up to 15 days in jail and given a first-time offense fine of up to $50. Under the new proposed ordinance, officers will be able to officially use their common sense in each encounter to decide whether to even issue the civil citation.
Councilor Pat Davis sponsored the bill along with Councilor Isaac Benton. Davis said this will save many hours of police paperwork, not to mention crime lab time, that can be used to catch up or keep up on rape kits, and deal with other evidence from real crimes.
During public comment, only one speaker spoke out against the measure. A member of the American Civil Liberties Union also addressed the meeting and said this is a first step to push back against laws that mostly have impacted poorer communities of color. Albuquerque’s Police Union is on board, as are other groups involved in drug policy reform.
Surprisingly, Democrat City Councilor Cynthia Borrego joined the Republican Councilors Brad Winter, Don Harris and Trudy Jones to vote against the common-sense measure. Borrego said she was concerned with the lack of regulations and the possibility of marijuana being laced with other drugs. Councilor Borrego posited that she doesn’t see real evidence that shows a tie between decreased penalties and reduced crime rates. Councilors Diane Gibson, Ken Sanchez, Pat Davis, Klarissa Peña and Isaac Benton approved of the measure, helping Burque keep up with the 54 cities and 22 states, along with the District of Columbia, that have similarly decriminalized or even legalized cannabis.
Similar legislation passed the City Council during the last administration, but Mayor Richard Berry vetoed that legislation in 2015. This proposed change in plans will now make its trek to the desk of Mayor Tim Keller where it stands a chance of being passed into law, since Mayor Keller has said he supports decriminalizing and legalizing cannabis.
In a unanimous move, Councilors approved spending $330,000 on a high intensity activated crosswalk (HAWK) light at Louisiana and Natalie near Cleveland Middle School where 12-year-old Eliza “Justine” Almuina was struck by a car and killed last month while crossing the street. In addition, the resolution creates a task force of city, school and police folks working together to identify other dangerous or inadequately marked crossings, especially involving children near schools.
Emily Ashby, a former Cleveland Middle School student, spoke eloquently in support. Ashby is now a freshman University of New Mexico multi-media journalism student. She said she and her little brother and their friends had to gamble with their safety every day at that intersection. “I have had too many close calls at this intersection. Sometimes we were seen and sometimes we weren’t.” Ashley said.
The mother of a Cleveland Middle School student presented a petition with 3,500 signatures in support of this resolution. Councilor Diane Gibson who co-sponsored the bill got teary eyed and slightly choked up while talking about this bill. Councilor Brad Winter also signed on to the bill. Gibson told gathered citizens about “A very sad turn of events there. We have all been saddened by this, I certainly have, but we have a plan to go forward so this does not happen again.”
• Albuquerque first responders and police will be getting some training on how to handle situations involving people on the autism spectrum. The resolution says first responders will work with the Autism Society and its Safe and Sound initiative to train public safety agencies to better identify and respond to people with autism.
• A little over a couple hours were spent dealing with amendments to the city’s Integrated Development Ordinance. About 13 amendments were discussed in the first of three public hearings on proposed changes to the recently adopted overhaul of the city’s planning document. The amendments were prompted by public input and the discussion will continue through two more public hearings.
• More Albuquerque folks are stepping up to various civilian boards and commissions. At this meeting, those appointed included: Samia Assed to the Human Rights Board; Stanley Allen to the Urban Enhancement Trust; Meghan E. Ferguson Mraz and Jonathan Sanchez to the Arts Board; Devont’e K. Watson to the Library Advisory Board; Damon J. Maddox and Shari Weinstein to the Landmarks and Urban Conservation Commission; and Rebecca Avitia to the Albuquerque Development Commission.
• Councilors approved a six-month extension to the Cable Television Franchise Ordinance, until Oct. 1, 2018.
• Councilors also approved the appointment of Esteban Aguilar Jr. as the new City Attorney.