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This just in from the golden state: California marijuana possession is reduced to an infraction. In a bill signed into effect by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday, possession of marijuana up to one ounce has been reduced from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction. The new rules will go into effect January 11, 2011.
CBS quotes Schwarzenegger: "In this time of drastic budget cuts, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement, and the courts cannot afford to expend limited resources prosecuting crimes that carry the same punishment as a traffic ticket." Although he supported the change in classification, Schwarzenegger noted that he is still opposed to Proposition 19 (proposition that would legalize marijuana) noting that it is, "deeply flawed measure that, if passed, will adversely impact California businesses without bringing in the tax revenues to the state promised by its proponents."
The fines will remain intact, with up to $100 for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, the main difference in the change of punishment classification concerns the trial. As a misdemeanor, an individual charged with marijuana possession was entitled to a jury trial and a defense attorney.
As an infraction, the trial and attorney are no longer part of the process -- a move that, as the governor noted, will save precious state funds and help clear up the court system. Infractions, sometimes known as petty offenses, move through the system quickly because issues dealing with jail time and jury deliberations are eliminated. Reducing the marijuana possession punishment is strictly limited to simple possession and does not change the classifications for amounts over one ounce.
Opponents of the change feel that putting marijuana possession on par with traffic offenses is analogous to legalizing marijuana, and takes away much of the stigma attached to being charged as a misdemeanor. On the other hand, reducing marijuana possession to an infraction is a recognition of the tremendous amount of resources that are spent on prosecuting offenders (often teenagers) during a time when the funds and resources are so limited.
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