Little Rock, AR: Criminal sentencing reform legislation passed by lawmakers earlier this year is now in effect. Senate Bill 750, the Public Safety Improvement Act, intends to reduce the number of non-violent offenders incarcerated statewide by mitigating the sentences for certain low-level drug offenses.
Democrat Gov. Mike Beebe, who strongly backed the measure, signed it into law on March 22, 2011. The law took effect on July 27.
Specific to marijuana law enforcement, the measure amends cannabis penalties so that the possession of up to four ounces of pot is a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one-year in jail and a $1,000 fine. For first-time offenders, the new law states, "[T]he court, without entering a judgment of guilt and with the consent of the defendant, may defer further proceedings and place the defendant on probation for a period of not less than one year."
Under the previous law, the possession of any amount of cannabis above one ounce was a felony offense punishable by between four and ten years imprisonment and a $25,000 fine.
The new law additionally reduces criminal penalties for the possession of small quantities of marijuana 'with the intent to deliver' from a felony offense to a misdemeanor. The law also reduces subsequent marijuana possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. Previously, second and third pot possession offenses were categorized as felonies.
Defendants found guilty of violating the state's marijuana laws will still be subject to the loss of their driver's license for six-months.
For more information, please contact Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel, at (202) 483-5500. Full text of the Public Safety Improvement Act is available online at: http://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/assembly/2011/2011R/Acts/Act570.pdf.