Pubdate: Wed, 17 Mar 2010
Source: San Francisco Bay Guardian, The (CA)
Copyright: 2010 San Francisco Bay Guardian
Author: Jobert Poblete
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)


Legislation designed to help pot smokers instead had many of them 
going all like, "Dude, what the fuck?!?!" But the author is now 
telling everyone to chill out, no problem, he's got it under control.

California Sen. Mark Leno (D-SF) introduced a bill last month that 
would make possession of up to one ounce of marijuana an infraction 
instead of a misdemeanor. As introduced, the bill   Senate Bill 
1449   would also raise fines to $250 from $100, which pot advocates 
and their allies thought was a serious bummer. But Leno called this a 
"drafting error" that he intends to correct with an amendment this week.

Marijuana possession is currently the only misdemeanor on the books 
that does not result in a jail sentence. Leno told us that SB 1449 
would correct this irregularity. Leno also said that the bill would 
save the state time and money. Unlike infractions, misdemeanor 
charges give defendants the right to costly jury trials and access to 
public defenders.

"Because of the allowance for a jury trial, a lot of time, money, and 
effort is wasted when it's an infraction, misnamed," Leno told us. 
"Either we call it what it is - a $100 fine is an infraction - or if 
it is a misdemeanor, then increase the penalty to include jail time. 
But no one wants to do that."

Similar bills have failed in the Senate before. But Leno thinks that 
the economic crisis and changing attitudes have changed the climate 
in Sacramento. He cited polls that show a majority of Californians 
support decriminalizing marijuana possession altogether and an 
initiative to do just that could appear on the November ballot.

Drug policy reform advocates supported the move to make possession an 
infraction instead of a misdemeanor but raised concerns about the 
possible increase in fines. "We have always supported making 
marijuana possession an infraction instead of a misdemeanor," said 
Dale Gieringer, vice chair of the National Organization for the 
Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Aaron Smith, California policy director at the Marijuana Policy 
Project, raised concerns about the possible increase in fines and 
emphasized the need to focus on broader efforts to decriminalize 
marijuana. "Everyone should be focusing on making marijuana taxed and 
regulated instead of fiddling with the fines," Smith said.

Leno considers his bill complementary to the broader efforts to 
legalize marijuana. "If we're going to decriminalize and tax, we're 
really going from infraction to decriminalization," Leno said. "It's 
really an infraction, so let's call it that."
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