Pubdate: Wed, 13 Oct 2010
Source: Ventura County Star (CA)
Copyright: 2010 The E.W. Scripps Co.
Author: Timm Herdt
Note: Timm Herdt is chief of The Star state bureau. His political 
blog "95 percent accurate*" is at
Cited: Proposition 19
Bookmark: (Proposition 19)


For 35 years in California, possession of less than an ounce of 
marijuana has been a crime like no other. Although classified as a 
misdemeanor, under no circumstance can a conviction result in jail 
time or even in a person being placed on probation. It carries with 
it only a fine, capped at $100.

When police officers make such an arrest, they often refer to it as a 
"marijuana ticket." There's not a lot of hassle involved, other than 
processing the evidence. No one gets booked into jail after such an arrest.

For those on the receiving end of such "tickets," however, there are 
consequences beyond the $100 fine.

If presented with a job application that asks if they've ever been 
convicted of a misdemeanor, they have to answer affirmatively. The 
conviction stays on their record at least two years, complicating the 
hopes of anyone who wants to pursue nursing, law enforcement or some 
other profession for which even a minor drug conviction can 
disqualify an applicant.

More than 61,000 such arrests were made in California last year.

These "marijuana tickets" are more trouble than they're worth at 
courthouses, so the state Judicial Council has recommended for years 
that the crime be reclassified as an infraction -- to make the crime 
fit the punishment, as it were.

Three times this decade, proposals in the Legislature to do that 
failed. That changed this year with the passage of SB 1449, signed by 
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Sept. 30.

It will take effect Jan. 1 -- unless voters render it moot between 
now and then.

The fact that lawmakers discovered the resolve now to do what judges 
have long asked them to do is no coincidence. The action is a direct 
response to the presence of Proposition 19, the initiative to 
legalize the adult possession of small amounts of marijuana, on the 
Nov. 2 ballot.

Some reluctant advocates of the new law hope it will stymie support 
for Proposition 19 by blunting the argument that enforcement of the 
law against marijuana possession wastes police resources and 
needlessly penalizes much of the population.

In a signing message, Schwarzenegger made it clear he was approving 
the change "notwithstanding my opposition to Proposition 19."

Standing alone, the new marijuana infraction law would be a pretty 
big deal. "It's the most significant step in the direction of 
marijuana reform in decades," Stephen Gutwillig, California director 
of the Drug Policy Alliance, told me last week.

But contrasted against the imminent possibility of legalization, the 
idea of making pot possession a mere infraction seems not very dramatic.

Under the new law, the possession of marijuana by an adult in 
California would have consequences no worse than a traffic ticket. 
Since the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' most recent 
survey shows that 16 million Americans, including 20 percent of 
college students, use marijuana at least once a month, the change 
might be considered a sensible recognition of reality.

Even with the new law, however, Californians who use marijuana would, 
by definition, need either to have a doctor's letter authorizing them 
to purchase it from a medical marijuana dispenser or to buy it from a felon.

That's the contradiction Proposition 19 seeks to address by allowing 
cities to authorize the production and sale of commercial amounts of marijuana.

But the measure's proposed city-by-city scheme has the potential for 
chaos. Say, for instance, the city of Commerce decides to allow 
commercial-scale grow houses. And say the city of Pismo Beach decides 
to license a couple of club-like establishments at which patrons can 
purchase and consume marijuana, but no commercial cultivation.

If the Pismo Beach clubs contracted with the city of Commerce grow 
houses to supply pot, the trucks would have to pass through Ventura 
County, where possession of large amounts of marijuana might still be 
illegal under all circumstances.

The only way to resolve such a mess would be for the Legislature to 
adopt statewide regulations for commercial production and transportation.

It's likely that if Proposition 19 were to pass, a period of relative 
chaos would follow. Given the Legislature's inability to step up and 
adopt regulations for the smooth implementation of the state's 
medical marijuana laws, it's possible some of the chaos could extend 

Still, once voters make up their minds on the essential question -- 
and recent polling suggests they may have -- they are not likely to 
be dissuaded by details. If they pass Proposition 19, it would not be 
the first time they approved something, dumped the details in the lap 
of the Legislature and said, "Deal with it." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake