Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

April 19, 2010
Leno bill seeks to make simple possession an infraction

As California's marijuana movement and a few thousand pot smokers celebrated today's 4th of July of weed, state Sen. Mark Leno convened an April 20 session of his public safety committee in a bid to make possession of an ounce or less an infraction.

Under California law, people arrested for simple possession face a penalty akin to an infraction - a fine of $100. But they are still charged with a misdemeanor.

But Leno, who notably returned a call on his pot bill at 4:20 p.m. last week, said misdemeanor marijuana arrests are clogging California courts for something that should be dismissed quicker than a parking ticket.

In 2008, 61,388 people in California were arrested for misdemeanor marijuana offenses.

"The question is why are we wasting a million dollars and clogging our courtrooms with what, in fact, is an infraction," Leno said.

An argument for his Senate Bill 1449 said making possession of less than an ounce an infraction "will allow prosecutors to expedite hearings and free up much needed court resources for more serious offenses."

While Leno's bill is supported by the California Judicial Council, the California Drug Policy Alliance and the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, it is opposed by many law enforcement groups.

The bill passed Leno's committee this afternoon.

But John Lovell, a lobbyist for the California narcotics officers, peace officers and police chiefs associations, said its odds of ultimate passage are remote.

Lovell said the measure would dry up incentives for drug treatment, which is often negotiated in plea deals or sentencing agreements.

"If you have an incentive to remove that misdemeanor from your record, you're inclined to go into a treatment program," Lovell said. "And we can all agree that drug treatment is a good thing."

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