California Decriminalizes Marijuana
Governor Schwarzenegger has signed a bill making pot possession (at certain levels) the equivalent of a traffic ticket.
Via the San Francisco Chronicle: State downgrades pot possession to infraction
Citing the need to reduce spending on prosecution and courts, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a measure that makes marijuana possession an infraction, on par with traffic and littering tickets.
“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,” wrote Schwarzenegger, who opposes Proposition 19, the marijuana initiative.
The law, which takes effect immediately, reduces possession of up to an ounce of marijuana – enough for about 30 joints – from a misdemeanor to an infraction. Already, marijuana possession was the only misdemeanor under California law that didn’t allow for jail time.
Quite frankly, this makes fiscal sense given the previous state of the law:
The penalty for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana was already limited to a $100 fine and potential, court-mandated treatment.
Really, why expend the money for court appearances and other related costs?
Beyond that, however, this is clearly indicative of an ongoing shift towards marijuana use.
The immediate political implications is how it will effect voting on Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana outright in CA. On the one hand the new measure further destigmatizes marijuana usage to some degree, yet on the other it removes one of the arguments for Prop 19, i.e., that it would help reduce the costs associated with marijuana prosecutions.
In regards to Prop 19 itself, see: On Legalizing Marijuana in California. That post underscores the conflict between state and federal laws on this subject. Such a contrast is quite relevant because any real change to the true fundaments of the drug war on marijuana has to come from a national change in policy, not state-level reforms. And there are powerful fiscal arguments for doing so at that level as well.