Effective January 1, 20101, just an ounce or less of marijuana in California will be an infraction, like a parking ticket, jaywalking or littering.
Previously, as a misdemeanor, it allows for a California DUI Jury trial and shows up on criminal background checks for job applicants.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the law Thursday and issued this love letter:
To the Members of the California State Senate:
I am signing Senate Bill 1449.
This bill changes the crime of possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor punishable only by a $100 fine to an infraction punishable by a $100 fine. Under existing law, jail time cannot be imposed, probation cannot be ordered, nor can the base fine exceed $100 for someone convicted of this crime. I am opposed to decriminalizing the possession and recreational use of marijuana and oppose Proposition 19, which is on the November ballot. Unfortunately, Proposition 19 is a deeply flawed measure that, if passed, will adversely impact California’s businesses without bringing in the tax revenues to the state promised by its proponents. Notwithstanding my opposition to Proposition 19, however, I am signing this measure because possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is an infraction in everything but name. The only difference is that because it is a misdemeanor, a criminal defendant is entitled to a jury trial and a defense attorney. 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. As noted by the Judicial Council in its support of this measure, the appointment of counsel and the availability of a jury trial should be reserved for defendants who are facing loss of life, liberty, or property greater than $100. For these reasons, I am signing this bill.
Supporters said it would save the state millions of dollars in court and prosecution costs at a time the money was sorely needed and shows momentum is on their side.
“Our movement is shaping policy in California and beyond,” proponent Jeff Jones said in a statement. “Ideas once considered radical are now completely mainstream.”
Opponents noted that a central argument for the proposition — that minor marijuana possession cases occupy too much of the legal system’s time — had evaporated.
Said No on 19 campaign manager Tim Rosales: “This new law takes away the last reason anyone would have to vote for Prop. 19.”
In a statement released by the governor’s office, Schwarzenegger said, “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.”
He noted that under the current law, jail time cannot be imposed, probation cannot be ordered and fines cannot exceed $100, meaning that possession of an ounce or less of marijuana is “an infraction in everything but name.”
In San Diego, the reclassification of possession from a misdemeanor to an infraction could mean hundreds of drug cases a year get resolved without the involvement of lawyers and jury trials.
Since January 2008, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office has handled more than 1,930 limited marijuana possession cases, some of which involve other crimes, while filing about 41,000 cases a year.
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and longtime San Diego California criminal defense attorney public defender Larry Beyersdorf agreed the infraction designation would reduce the time and effort lawyers on both sides spend on such cases.
Beyersdorf is happy with the law’s broader effects. “Right now any misdemeanor conviction stays on your record forever,” he said. “We’re constantly getting calls from people who are having trouble getting a job because 10 years ago they were convicted of a very minor offense. We don’t need to brand people for life with this kind of stuff.”
This change should not drastically affect marijuana use around California.