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Albuquerque could scrap jail time for small amounts of pot

By Joseph Kolb

ALBUQUERQUE N.M. (Reuters) - Albuquerque in New Mexico may eliminate jail time for offenders caught with small amounts of marijuana after a city councillor proposed giving only small fines to those caught with less than an ounce of pot.

City Councilor Rey Garduno says the legislation he introduced at a meeting late on Monday could save the state's biggest city as much as $5 million a year in court and jail costs.

Under his plan, individuals possessing less than an ounce of marijuana would receive a $25 fine, as opposed to the current statute of 15 days in jail and a $50 fine. The council has until Aug. 18 to decide whether the proposal will appear on the November ballot as a referendum.

"This is directed at young people who may find themselves arrested and how it could affect their lives in the future," Garduno said. "We're treating people as criminals when alcohol and even tobacco may even be worse."

Garduno's proposal for Albuquerque comes amid a growing movement of pro-pot advocacy across the country.

This year, Colorado and Washington became the first states to allow recreational sales of the drug to adults, while similar initiatives will be on ballots in Oregon and Alaska in November.

Garduno backs a petition which has so far gathered 16,000 signatures from Albuquerque citizens who want a chance to vote on the issue of full decriminalization in the fall.

There were no dissenting comments or statements made by his council colleagues following Garduno's presentation. But he said he is concerned his Republican colleagues will vote along party lines against the proposal. That would not necessarily block it.

Asked for its reaction, the office of Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry noted that the city council planned to address the marijuana proposal at a later date.

"In the meantime, the mayor's office will await their response and vote, as we do not generally make a practice of commenting on pending legislation," Berry's chief of staff, Gilbert Montano, said in an email.

(Reporting by Joseph Kolb; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Mohammad Zargham)

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