Ballot Will Poll N.M. Voters About Pot

     SANTA FE, N.M. (CN) – Two New Mexico counties can poll voters about decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana on November’s ballot, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled.
     The order signed by Chief Justice Barbara J. Vigil on Friday reverses New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran’s refusal on Sept. 10 to include the nonbinding, advisory questions on the general election ballot.
     Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties asked Duran to include the advisory measures on the ballot to simply poll voters on whether additional action should be taken.
     Duran responded that inclusion of the non-binding questions would “be both unconstitutional and incompatible with state law.”
     “Neither the New Mexico Constitution nor any statute provides for the conduct, through the electoral process, of a poll of the voters with no resulting adoptions or rejection of public policy,” Duran wrote.
     “Establishing a precedent that the general election ballot can be used for ‘polling’ or ‘advisory opinions’ would almost certainly result in abuse of the electoral process in the future through the substitution of advisory questions over those that are substantive. Serious questions of public policy could then be left unaddressed while local bodies design ‘advisory’ questions instead.”
     It is “highly likely” that more significant public policy issues would be “squeezed out” of the ballot due to ballot length or cost, Duran wrote.
     New Mexico Attorney General Gary K. King said he was “pleased” the high court “adopted the legal position which we took.”
     “We believe it is important for the questions to be considered by the voters of New Mexico,” King said in a statement.
     The ruling will also allow Bernalillo County to include ballot advisory questions on levying a mental health and social services tax, NBC affiliate KOB-TV reported.
     Santa Fe County Commissioner Liz Stefanics said the ruling was a “significant victory on two fronts.”
     “First, the Supreme Court has confirmed that the Secretary of State does not have the authority to override local elected officials with respect to ballot questions,” she said. “Second, and more importantly, this means that the citizens of Santa Fe County will be able to express their opinion on this important policy question.”
     Bernalillo County Commission Chair Debbie O’Malley hailed the ruling as a “victory for democracy.”
     “I want to thank the New Mexico Supreme Court for upholding the ability of county commissions across New Mexico to govern what appears on the county ballot,” she told KOB-TV.
     Bernalillo County’s seat is Albuquerque. Santa Fe County, to the east and north, includes the state capital, Santa Fe.

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