Drug Law
Drug Law

Calif. Prop 19 Even Better than Marijuana Decriminalization

| by NORML

(California NORML) Sacramento, Sept 30th: A bill to downgrade the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction was signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The bill, SB 1449 by Sen. Mark Leno, will spare petty pot offenders the necessity for a court appearance and criminal arrest record while saving the state millions of dollars in court and prosecution expenses. The bill treats petty possession like a traffic ticket punishable by a simple $100 fine and no arrest record.

“Gov. Schwarzenegger deserves credit for sparing the state’s taxpayers the cost of prosecuting minor pot offenders,” said California NORML director Dale Gieringer, “Californians increasingly recognize that the war on marijuana is a waste of law enforcement resources.”

In his signing statement, the Governor said he opposes decriminalization of recreational use of marijuana and opposes Prop 19, but “in this time of drastic budget cuts, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement and the courts cannot afford to expend limited resources” prosecuting petty pot offenses.

Massachusetts decriminalized in 2008 and now California decriminalizes in 2010.  This is, of course, fantastic news and I’ll admit I did not expect Arnold to sign this.  I think his explanation of the economic reasons may be only part of the story.  I’m betting this was signed with an eye toward lessening the support for Prop 19.  Now the opponents of Prop 19 (prohibitionists and traitors alike) can say, “We’ve already decriminalized it, that will save us money and save small-time marijuana users a criminal record, so we don’t need to take the drastic step of legalization.”

Here’s why they’re wrong. 

These people stand in solidarity with Steve Cooley, Bonnie Dumanis, and the California Narcotics Officers Association.

The Stoners Against Legalization crowd have kept in their rhetoric a point that we don’t really need Prop 19, because it only allows you to carry up to an ounce, and that isn’t even an arrestable offense.  They’ve even speculated that the California government was intending on passing this decriminalization bill, so even the misdemeanor you get when you’re not arrested for under an ounce would go away.  The illogic here is the idea that you should prefer getting a $100 infraction ticket rather than no harassment at all for your less-than-an-ounce.

But keep in mind that when decrim goes into effect on January 1, marijuana is only a infraction, but that means that is still against the law.  This means cops still have probable cause to go after that less-than-an-ounce in your pocket so they can write you that ticket.  That means if they find more than an ounce, its a misdemeanor with a $500 fine and six months in jail.

After Prop 19 passes, possession of up to an ounce outside the home is LAWFUL.  As in, “not even an infraction”.  That means that there is no probable cause to search you and harass you based on the sight or smell of marijuana.  No more using the sight of your joint or the K-9 unit sniffing your weed as a pretext to begin harrassing you and fishing for another reason to bust you.

Even if you are caught outside your home with more than an ounce, then Prop 19 also helps you where decriminalization does not, because you get “an affirmative defense that the cannabis was reasonably related to his or her personal consumption.”

Also, this decriminalization is an ounce anywhere, including your home.  Under Prop 19, you are LAWFULLY allowed to possess at the site of your garden “results of any harvest”, which is all the weed you ever grew in twenty-five square feet of space.  Dennis Peron’s attorney J. David Nick speculates he could easily defend 200 pounds in a home under this language.

Let’s not forget that the bill Schwarzenegger signed does nothing for you if you’re growing a marijuana plant – that’s still a felony.  The site of a leaf through your window, seeds and stems in your trash, purchases from indoor gardening stores gleaned by tracking your car with GPS without your knowledge, are all still probable causes to bust you. After Prop 19, you could have 31 five gallon buckets worth of marijuana plants in your home and the fact that you have isn’t a probable cause to begin harassing you.

Stephanie "Dragonfly de la Luz" Taylor, April 2007 (WSMV-TV Nashville), isn't very fond of signing infraction tickets anyway... Why does she think we should have to sign them?

The decrim bill that Stephanie Taylor and others are probably cheering right now, thinking it guts one of the pro-Prop 19 talking points, actually does a good job of gutting two of their anti-Prop 19 talking points, specifically:

2. SMOKING CANNABIS IN PUBLIC (LEGAL UNDER PROP. 215) WILL BE PROHIBITED (with no exemption for medical marijuana patients).

Currently, it is perfectly legal under Prop. 215 for anyone to freely medicate wherever cigarette smoking is allowed. But Prop. 19 would eliminate that hard-won freedom.

3. SMOKING CANNABIS WHILE YOUR OWN CHILDREN ARE IN THE HOUSE (LEGAL UNDER PROP. 215) COULD BE PROHIBITED (with no exemption for patients who medicate at home).

What is meant by “space” and “present”? If you smoke in your den while your child sleeps in her bedroom, is that smoking in the same “space” (home) where minors are “present”? If you light up on the back patio and kids happen to be playing soccer next door, are you in the same “space” where minors are “present”? What if your high-grade homegrown wafts into the hallway of your apartment building while children are passing by? Are you smoking in a “space” where minors are “present”? Is “present” the same house? The same room? Wafting distance? Yes? No? Maybe? Depends? Not good enough.

Not anymore.  Never mind that Prop 19 doesn’t change Prop 215 at all and patients will still be able to medicate publicly and around kids if necessary.  Even if you’re not a patient and Stephanie’s crazy interpretation of smoking pot in the same “space” where a minor is “present” really means “being in the same room as the consumer, the same house, the same apartment building, or within wafting distance”, you would now just get a $100 infraction ticket.  Even if you’re not a patient and you’re caught smoking in public you would now just get a $100 infraction ticket.

So don’t let the bone Schwarzenegger just threw you dissuade you from supporting Prop 19 this November 2nd.  Enacting just decriminalization still leaves marijuana illegal.  Prop 19 makes marijuana LAWFUL.