Sacramento, Sept 30th: A bill to downgrade the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction was signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The bill, SB 1449 by Sen. Mark Leno, will spare petty pot offenders the necessity for a court appearance and criminal arrest record while saving the state millions of dollars in court and prosecution expenses. The bill treats petty possession like a traffic ticket punishable by a simple $100 fine and no arrest record.
“Gov. Schwarzenegger deserves credit for sparing the state’s taxpayers the cost of prosecuting minor pot offenders,” said California NORML director Dale Gieringer, “Californians increasingly recognize that the war on marijuana is a waste of law enforcement resources.”
The new law, which takes effect on Jan 1, 2011, will have an effect even if Californians vote to legalize marijuana by passing Prop 19. Prop 19 leaves misdemeanor possession penalties in place for public use and smoking in the presence of kids; under SB 1449, these offenses would be simple infractions.
In his signing statement, the Governor said he opposes decriminalization of recreational use of marijuana and opposes Prop 19, but “in this time of drastic budget cuts, prosecutors defense attorneys, law enforcement and the courts cannot afford to expend limited resources” prosecuting petty pot offenses.
Misdemeanor possession arrests in California have mounted to new highs in recent years, reaching 61,164 in 2009.
California NORML originally called for making petty possession an infraction when the state passed its landmark decriminalization law in 1975, but the legislature made it a minor misdemeanor punishable by a maximum $100 fine. This marks the first time in 35 years that penalties for non-medical use of marijuana have been reduced in California.