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October 1, 2010

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger Decriminalizes Criminal Charge for Possession of an Ounce of Marijuana

On Thursday September 30, 2010, Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law Proposition 19, a bill that downgrades possession of an ounce of less of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction - punishable by a fine. "I am signing this measure because possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is an infraction in everything by name," stated the Governor as he signed the bill. This bill does not legalize marijuana usage, it just reduces the penalty - marijuana is still illegal in California. In essence, the bill treats possession of a small amount of pot similar to a parking ticket, by a fine of no more than $100. But don't toke up yet, the bill doesn't go into effect until January 1, 2011.

SB 1449 was written by state Senator Mark Leno, of San Francisco, who claims the law will keep marijuana-related cases from clogging up the court system. Even as a crime, the maximum penalty for possession under an ounce in marijuana was a fine up to $100, and no jail time. These charges significantly drained the already cash-strapped and debt-ridden state of time, money and other resources. For a prosecutor and a public defender to spend time over one of these cases is just a joke - it's the least efficient use of time in the court system. Governor Schwarzenegger said it best: In this time of drastic budget cuts, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement, and the courts cannot afford to expend limited resources prosecuting a crime that carries the same punishment as a traffic ticket.

However, don't think this means legalization of pot is around the corner. It seems the sole purpose of this bill is economic - not social. The only reason Schwarzenegger signed this bill is to save money. The Governor still adamantly opposes SB 1449. Better known as Proposition 19, this bill decriminalizes marijuana and allows for cultivation in the state. SB 1449 is controversial among the California legislature, with some claiming it will create jobs, while others argued legalizing drug use was morally wrong. The bill is nowhere near passing, especially with the Governor refusing the sign the bill into law, and claiming that if it passes it would turn California into a "laughingstock."

However, while this bill will inevitable save the state's legal system money, others still condemn the law. Randy Thomasson, president of savecalifornia.com, has been a long-time and outspoken critic of decriminalizing marijuana. According to Thomasson: "This virtual legalization of marijuana definitely sends the wrong message to teenagers and young adults. It invites youth to become addicted to mind-altering pot because there's not much hassle and no public stigma and no rehab if they're caught." Let's not forget that getting behind the wheel of a car after smoking a marijuana joint is the equivalent of driving after 2 or 3 beers (possibly more depending on the quality of pot). Driving under the influence (DUI) of marijuana is a growing concern in California, and this new law certainly doesn't help the situation.

The New York Times, October 1, 2010: California Reduces Its Penalty for Marijuana


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