Starting this Saturday, January 1, the penalty for possession with as much as an ounce of marijuana in California will be same as if you had received a parking ticket.
Proponents of legalized marijuana say the relaxed state law is simply a sign that attitudes are changing. With possession being put on the same level as a parking ticket, it is going to be more difficult to make major crimes out of selling, distributing or growing marijuana, said Richard Lee, founder of Oaksterdam University, an Oakland school that specializes in marijuana issues.
Possession of an ounce of marijuana has been a misdemeanor crime punishable with a $100 fine. Under the new state law, the fine is the same but the charge is downgraded to an infraction.
State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, introduced the bill making the change. He said the state could no longer afford to go after people who had committed a crime that carries the same punishment as parking tickets.
Carla Lowe, founder of Citizens against Legalized Marijuana, said the change was the worst new law passed by lawmakers in 2010.
“I believe this has knocked out one of the key pillars of prevention to help kids say we’re not doing drugs,” she said.
Law enforcement groups have also come out against the law, but it has gotten support from some law enforcement officials.
“I think it’s a good thing because it is calling the offense what it has always been, which is an infraction,” said San Mateo District Attorney Jim Fox.
According to the California attorney general, there were an estimated 78,500 arrests in 2008 and 74,000 in 2007 for felony and misdemeanor related charges associated to marijuana.
In November, California pushed a vote for legalizing the use of marijuana under Proposition 19 that would have legalized the plant. There were 53% voting against to 46% voting “yes” in defeat of the “Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act”.