Voters to decide on pot, mental health
Voters in Bernalillo County will have a chance to weigh in on possible decriminalization of marijuana and funding for mental health programs during the Nov. 4 election. This is the first time non-binding advisory question will appear during a statewide election.
So what am I voting on?
The first question asks voters whether or not they favor decriminalizing the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana.
The second question asks whether voters favor raising the gross receipt tax by one-eighth of a cent to fund mental health treatment in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County.
These advisory questions are unusual as they are not legally binding.
If voters approve the measures the city or county government will not be obligated to change the law.
However, majority approval of these measures will make them a legislative priority, state Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, an Albuquerque Democrat, said. A yes vote could put significant pressure on local and state government to pass legislation that would fulfill the mandate of the people.
Some young people are happy to be able to vote on these issues. Tom Guesz, 22, a UNM student majoring in environmental planning and design, said although the issues are controversial, is glad to have the opportunity to make his voice heard.
“This is the first time I will have a chance to vote on marijuana, which I believe has cost the country and community far too much,” Guesz said. “I have close friends who have been arrested, and now it’s hard for them to find a decent job.”
Why is the county asking for a tax raise for mental health?
Debate over whether Albuquerque does enough to take care of its mentally ill population erupted after an APD officer shot and killed a mentally ill homeless man, James Boyd, in March. Critics say there should be more money to fund programs to treat the mentally ill homeless.
More than 45 percent of Albuquerque’s homeless population suffers from at least one mental illness according to a report by The New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness.
“This is a local issue, we can complain that the state hasn’t helped, but we have to ask, do we want to step up?” said Bernalillo County Commission Chairwoman Debby O’Malley. “I think it’s important to get ownership of this local issue.”
Neither the County Commission nor Albuquerque City Council has laid out specific plans for the potential tax revenue, but say that there is no extra money to address the mental health problem.
When asked how an eighth of a cent sales tax increase would affect business, one business owner said the effect would be negligible.
“I don’t think it would matter for a place like ours. I don’t think it would matter one bit,” said Elisabeth Johnson, manager of Don’s Paperback Books, when asked how a sales tax increase might affect her business.
How did these advisory questions end up on the ballot?
Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry vetoed the City Council’s attempt to add these issues to the ballot as legally binding measures.
After the veto, the commission placed the issues on the ballot as advisory questions.
Secretary of State Dianna Duran then refused to print the advisory questions on the county ballot. Duran claimed the county has no constitutional authority to place non-binding questions on the ballot.
The commission, in turn, said the Secretary of State had no constitutional authority to edit what the county decided to put on its ballot. The issue went to the New Mexico Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the county.
See our coverage of other ballot measures here.[/text_output][share title=”Share this Post” facebook=”true” twitter=”true” google_plus=”true” linkedin=”true” pinterest=”true”][/vc_column][/vc_row]