Pubdate: Thu, 06 Jan 2011
Source: Napa Valley Register (CA)
Copyright: 2011 Lee Enterprises
Author: Kerana Todorov
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Popular)


Possession of a small amount of marijuana may still not be legal 
without a medical marijuana card, but a new state law makes the 
offense no more serious than a traffic ticket.

Until this month, someone with an ounce or less of marijuana could be 
cited for a misdemeanor. Under the new law, which took effect Jan. 1, 
citations are an infraction, similar to a traffic ticket. The penalty 
remains the same -- $100.

Both Napa County Sheriff's Capt. Tracey Stuart and Napa Police Capt. 
Steve Potter said they do not expect the new law to alter law 
enforcement operates.

For years, someone with a small amount of marijuana who does not have 
permission to use the drug was cited and released, Potter said. In 
2010, Napa Police issued 79 citations for marijuana possession, he said.

On his website, the law's sponsor, State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San 
Francisco, called the reclassification "common sense."

The penalty for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is a 
$100 fine with no jail time, according to a fact sheet provided by 
Leno's office. Treating marijuana as an infraction keeps low-level 
offenders out of court.

Napa County Chief Deputy Public Defender Ronald Abernethy does not 
expect a discernible change in his office's caseload. The public 
defender represents very few people who are charged only with 
possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, he said.

The new law allows people caught with small amounts of marijuana to 
avoid the stigma of suffering a misdemeanor criminal conviction, 
Abernethy said in an e-mail.

"Other than that (and the fact you can't be placed on probation now 
that it is an infraction) there really isn't much of a change under 
the new law.

"Whether the change from a misdemeanor with a $100 fine to an 
infraction with a $100 fine will limit the right of police to search 
a person possessing small amounts of marijuana without a warrant 
remains to be determined by the courts," Abernethy said.

The new marijuana law was one among 700-plus state laws that took 
effect Jan. 1.

Under two new laws, California will create an Internet-based 
insurance exchange to let consumers comparison-shop for affordable 
health insurance coverage.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed bills in September making 
California the first state to authorize an oversight board for an 
insurance exchange marketplace since the federal health care overhaul 
was enacted earlier this year.

The Republican governor and Democratic legislative leaders said the 
companion bills will drive down costs and give consumers more options 
by promoting competition between health insurance companies.

Republican lawmakers countered that the measures create an expensive 
new health care bureaucracy even before the federal health care law 
takes full effect in 2014.

Supporters said the five-member board overseeing the California 
Health Benefit Exchange will need those three years to hire staff, 
set up the program, select health plans to participate and enroll 
Californians needing health insurance.

Effective Jan. 1, any parent, guardian or adult who provides alcohol 
to someone under the age of 21 may be liable in the event of injuries or death.

The bill was inspired by the December 2008 death of a 17-year-old 
teen in Shasta County who died from alcohol poisoning at a party.

In another new law, motorcycle riders younger than 21 years are 
required to complete a safety course administered by the California 
Highway Patrol.

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The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom