Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

October 1, 2010
Governor signs California marijuana decriminalization bill

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed legislation that will reduce the crime of possession of an ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction, handing a victory to marijuana advocates one month before November's state vote to legalize pot for recreational use.

The governor's signature of Senate Bill 1449 by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, will not reduce actual penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under California law, misdemeanor possession of less than an ounce was already punishable as infraction - with offenders facing fines of $100.

Marijuana advocates say the governor's decision to sign the bill will significantly reduce the number of cases clogging California courts by removing the misdemeanor tag.

The law will take effect Jan. 1, meaning it may be superseded - at least for Californians over 21 - by the November legalization measure.

Schwarzenegger said he signed Leno's bill because "possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is infraction in everything but name."

Yet despite signing the bill, Schwarzenegger said he strongly opposes the Proposition 19 measure to legalize marijuana for recreational use for California adults over 21, allow small residential cultivation and permit local cities and counties to tax retail pot sales.

"I am opposed to decriminalizing the possession and recreational use of marijuana and oppose Proposition 19," the governor said in his bill signing statement. "Unfortunately, Proposition 19 is a deeply flawed measure...that will adversely impact California's businesses without bringing in the tax revenues to the state promised by its proponents."

Dale Gieringer, California director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, says the governor's signature cemented the first reduction of marijuana penalties in California in 35 years. In 1975, the state decriminalized minor marijuana possession by imposing the misdemeanor and maximum $100 fine.

Gieringer said misdemeanor defendants still needed to be processed by the court system.

"Gov. Schwarzenegger deserves credit for sparing the state's taxpayers the cost of prosecuting minor pot offenders," he said in a statement. "Californians increasingly recognize that the war on marijuana is a waste of law enforcement resources."

Some law enforcement lobbyists fought the legislation, arguing that it took power away from judges and prosecutors to reduce misdemeanor offenses to citations in exchange for defendants going into drug treatment.

The bill signing was protested in a statement Friday by Dr. Paul Chabot, founder of the Coalition for a Drug Free California.

"It is disturbing and disappointing that the California governor would sign such a law. This sends the wrong message to kids and communities," he said.

About Comments

Reader comments on Sacbee.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Sacramento Bee. If you see an objectionable comment, click the "report abuse" button below it. We will delete comments containing inappropriate links, obscenities, hate speech, and personal attacks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. See more about comments here.

What You Should Know About Comments on Sacbee.com

Sacbee.com is happy to provide a forum for reader interaction, discussion, feedback and reaction to our stories. However, we reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments or ban users who can't play nice. (See our full terms of service here.)

Here are some rules of the road:

• Keep your comments civil. Don't insult one another or the subjects of our articles. If you think a comment violates our guidelines click the "report abuse" button to notify the moderators. Responding to the comment will only encourage bad behavior.

• Don't use profanities, vulgarities or hate speech. This is a general interest news site. Sometimes, there are children present. Don't say anything in a way you wouldn't want your own child to hear.

• Do not attack other users; focus your comments on issues, not individuals.

• Stay on topic. Only post comments relevant to the article at hand. If you want to discuss an issue with a specific user, click on his profile name and send him a direct message.

• Do not copy and paste outside material into the comment box.

• Don't repeat the same comment over and over. We heard you the first time.

• Do not use the commenting system for advertising. That's spam and it isn't allowed.

• Don't use all capital letters. That's akin to yelling and not appreciated by the audience.

You should also know that The Sacramento Bee does not screen comments before they are posted. You are more likely to see inappropriate comments before our staff does, so we ask that you click the "report abuse" button to submit those comments for moderator review. You also may notify us via email at feedback@sacbee.com. Note the headline on which the comment is made and tell us the profile name of the user who made the comment. Remember, comment moderation is subjective. You may find some material objectionable that we won't and vice versa.

If you submit a comment, the user name of your account will appear along with it. Users cannot remove their own comments once they have submitted them, but you may ask our staff to retract one of your comments by sending an email to feedback@sacbee.com. Again, make sure you note the headline on which the comment is made and tell us your profile name.

hide comments

On October 14, The Sacramento Bee will temporarily remove commenting from sacbee.com. While we design the upgrade, we encourage you to tell us what you like and don't like about commenting on sacbee.com and other websites. We've heard from hundreds of you already and we're listening. Please continue to add your thoughts and questions here. We also encourage you to write Letters to the Editor on this and other topics.