California Assembly Committee Votes For Tougher Pot Penalties

The California Assembly Public Safety Committee slammed the door on drug reformers by soundly defeating a bill to lessen penalties for medical marijuana and approving another measure to increase marijuana prison sentences.

The committee, whose complexion has shifted sharply to the right with the Republican takeover of the Assembly this year, turned a deaf ear to the pleas of medical marijuana patients, physicians and AIDS support groups by rejecting a medical marijuana bill sponsored by Rep. John Burton (D-San Francisco). The Burton bill (AB 2120) was a heavily watered-down version of legislation introduced last year by Assemblyman John Vasconcellos to allow for the prescribed use of marijuana for the sick and terminally ill.

Despite the bill’s concessions, Burton’s proposed legislation was defeated handily by a vote of 7-1, signifying a major reversal in the committee’s attitude regarding medical marijuana. In the past, the committee had been receptive toward the medical marijuana issue and had approved legislation allowing for it’s use three years in a row. This year, Burton’s measure was actively opposed by the California Narcotics Officers Association, the Governor’s Department of Health, and Attorney General Lungren, who argued that the legislation undercut the established system of drug regulation.

Meanwhile, the committee eagerly approved a measure introduced by Assemblyman Charles Poochigan (R-Fresno) to enhance prison sentences by three years and up for marijuana convictions involving a kilogram or more. Two Democrats joined Republicans in approving the bill, which was strongly backed by the Narcotics Officers and District Attorney’s associations. “The committee appeared indifferent to the costs of imprisoning more offenders for non-violent crime,” stated California NORML State Coordinator Dale Gieringer, who had opposed the measure. “Throughout the day, it routinely approved all other penalty enhancement bills with no regard as to whether the offenses were violent, serious, or victimless.

Drug-law reformers hope to derail AB 2764 in the Democratic-controlled State Senate, Gieringer noted.

For more information, please contact Dale Gieringer of California NORML at (415) 563-5858.