ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The mayor of New Mexico’s largest city vetoed a measure on Friday that would have allowed voters to decide whether to decriminalize marijuana possession in much the same way that councilors in the state’s capital did just two days earlier.
In a video message posted on YouTube, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry said he was vetoing the effort that also included a tax increase and other proposals because marijuana is illegal and decriminalizing it would pose conflicts with state and federal laws. Berry said he also didn’t support the proposed tax hike.
“The original form of this bill actually has several measures that I really want to see the voters of Albuquerque weigh in on,” Berry said. “Unfortunately, at the last minute there were measures added that I, in good conscience, cannot sign, including flying in the face federal and state law.”
The veto came after councilors in liberal-leaning Santa Fe voted 5-4 on Wednesday to decriminalize pot, making the city the first in the state to make possession of small amounts a civil infraction. Previously, the crime was a criminal misdemeanor.
The new Santa Fe ordinance makes possession of an ounce or less punishable by a fine of no more than $25.
Attorney General Gary King believes Santa Fe is within its right to decriminalize marijuana and said he has no plans to challenge the new ordinance, said Phil Sisneros, a spokesman for King.
King, a Democrat, is running for governor against Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, who opposes decriminalization measures.
Still, questions remain about the way Santa Fe police, sheriff’s deputies and state police troopers will respond to the new law in Santa Fe.
Officers with those agencies will still have the discretion to charge offenders under sterner state laws, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported (http://goo.gl/s5lb6v ) Thursday.
With his veto, Berry said he didn’t want to get Albuquerque into a potential legal fight. Supporters of the change were quick to criticize Berry for his decision.
“We’re disappointed to see the mayor turn away from the opportunity to let city voters have a (say in) how our city deals with crime and justice issues,” Pat Davis of ProgressNow New Mexico said in a statement.
The group is one of the organizations that sponsored campaigns to reduce marijuana penalties in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
Under current state law, first-time offenders possessing less than an ounce of marijuana face a petty misdemeanor charge punishable by a fine up to $100 and as long as 15 days in jail.
Martinez has said she doesn’t think cities can decriminalize pot without a change in state law. She called the efforts a political move to get young voters to the polls.