While most Californians and the media in recent months have understandably remained focused on The Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 — which seeks to eliminate criminal penalties for the adult personal possession and cultivation of marijuana — state lawmakers in Sacramento have quietly been moving forward on a cannabis liberalization bill of their own.
Senate Bill 1449, which seeks to reduce personal, non-medical marijuana possession penalties from a criminal misdemeanor to an infraction, is now only one vote away from heading to Gov. Schwarzenegger’s desk.
On Wednesday, members of the California Assembly Committee on Public Safety voted 4 to 1 to send the measure to the Assembly floor. (Senate lawmakers had previously voted 21 to 13 in favor of the bill.) Once the full Assembly acts, the measure will go before the Governor for his signature.
Under current law, marijuana possession has a unique status in California law as the only misdemeanor that is not punishable by arrest or jail time. However, offenders must still appear in court, pay a fine ($100), and pay court costs (approximately $200). In addition, defendants who wish to avoid a criminal record must attend a court-ordered diversion program. Defendants who do not attend such a program are saddled with a criminal record for at least two years following their conviction.
By making possession an infraction, Senate Bill 1449 would spare possession offenders time in court or the risk of a criminal record. Instead, they would simply pay a fine.