Just hours before the state’s legislative session ended Tuesday, the California Assembly voted to approve SB 1449, Sen. Mark Leno’s bill to fully decriminalize simple marijuana possession. The bill passed the Senate in June and now goes to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk.
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The vote was 43-33 and largely along party lines. Democrats supported the bill 40-8, while Republicans opposed it 23-2.
Under current California law, possession of less than an ounce of pot is punishable by no more than a $100 fine, but is still a misdemeanor. That means people busted for a joint or a half-bag must be arrested, booked, and appear in court, and they get a criminal record. It also means meaningless work for the police and the courts.
Marijuana possession is the only California misdemeanor with a set maximum fine and no possible jail time. The Leno bill changes the offense to an infraction, meaning no arrest, no booking, no court appearance, and no criminal record.
"The penalty for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is a fine of $100, with no jail time," Leno said on introducing the bill. "If the penalty is $100, with no jail time, that is an infraction. That is not a misdemeanor."
Keeping simple possession a misdemeanor has had "serious unintended consequences," the San Francisco Democrat said. "As the number of misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests have surged in recent years, reaching 61,388 in 2008, the burden placed on the courts by these low level offenses is just too much to bear at a time when resources are shrinking and caseloads are growing."