Governor Decriminalization Marijuana in California

Vince Cestone, Staff Writer

Governor Schwarzenegger signed a Sept. 30 bill that reduced the punishment of possessing less than an ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a maximum $100 fine.

According to Senate Bill 1449, Californians who carry less than an ounce of marijuana will only face an infraction equal to that of a speeding ticket.

Even when possession of up to an ounce was a misdemeanor punishable of a $100 fine and no jail time, offenders were subject to arrest, a criminal record, and a court appearance.

Students and faculty at De Anza College have mixed feelings about the new law.

“I wouldn’t want people going to jail for small quantities,” said Journalism instructor Cecilia Deck.

While some people are fine with removing jail time for marijuana possession, others are worried that the looser penalties will increase drivers who are under the influence of the drug.

“On the other hand, I don’t want marijuana rampant in society,” Deck said. “As far as I’ve heard, there is no way to test if these drivers have been smoking marijuana. I really don’t want to be out on roads with people high on marijuana.”

Supriya Verma, an undecided major, holds similar concerns about drivers who might be tempted to use marijuana after the new law.

“I don’t care about anybody’s addiction to marijuana. It could be just a personal habit, but I don’t want to be on a freeway next to a car that is being driven by a stoned driver,” said Verma. “So while they don’t arrest you…there should be limitations and fines.”

The new marijuana law comes just before Californians will vote on Proposition 19 in the November election. The law would make marijuana legal in California.

Although Schwarzenegger is opposed to Proposition 19, he said SB 1449 was necessary in order to save the state courts money.

“In this time of drastic budget cuts, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement and the courts cannot afford to expend limited resources prosecuting a crime that carries the same punishment as a traffic ticket,” the governor told the Associated Press.

Diana Urkumyan, Journalism and Public Relations major at De Anza, agrees that new marijuana law was for monetary reasons.

“I think the reason why the governor wants to decriminalize marijuana is so that the state can tax it, especially when it’s struggling for money,” said Urkumyan.

Other Proposition 19 opponents say that SB 1449 will further their cause because police can now focus on more dangerous crimes even without Proposition 19 passing.

“From our perspective, it takes away the last reason anyone would have to vote for Proposition 19,” said Roger Salazar, a spokesperson for No on Prop 19, to the Associated Press.

Those who support Prop 19 offer a different opinion about SB 1449. Jeff Jones, a spokesperson for Yes on Prop 19, believes that the new law is progress, but Prop 19 is still necessary.

“So long as there are any penalties on marijuana users, and so long as the production and sale of cannabis are illegal, we can’t rest,” said Jones via email to supporters.

In 2008, authorities made over 61,000 arrests in relation to marijuana misdemeanors, according to the latest California Department of Justice records. This is up from over 50,000 in 2006.

Dale Gieringer, director of the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and co-author of the state’s medical marijuana law, argues that the police arrests should be used for crimes that are more serious.

“Californians increasingly recognize that the war on Marijuana is a waste of law enforcements resources,” Dale told the Associated Press.

California voters can decide whether to legalize marijuana altogther during the Nov. 2 ballot.