With just one month to go until the November elections, Governor Schwarzenegger put a new twist in the battle over Proposition 19. That's the initiative that, if passed, would essentially legalize marijuana. Supporters cite the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars per year that are wasted trying to enforce existing cannabis laws. At first blush it makes sense. Regulate and tax the product and add more money to government coffers.
On Thursday, the governor signed SB 1449 into law. That means that possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is no longer a misdemeanor, but merely an infraction. Much like a traffic ticket. No more going to court if one gets caught in possession. No judge, no lawyers, no criminal record, no administrators taking up time and resources.
The fine? $100.
Doesn't make pot legal, but it does take some wind out of the sails of the Prop 19 camp. In a message the governor wrote, "the courts cannot afford to expend limited resources prosecuting a crime that carries the same punishment as a traffic ticket".
Schwarzenegger is clearly trying to drive home a point with voters.
He needs to. The governor stands firmly in opposition of Prop 19 and recent polls suggest that California voters are split right down the middle.
The issue of courts and lawyers and all the time and money involved are a significant part of the push by Prop 19 supporters. Looks like Arnold's hoping his signature is a Preemptive strike that cuts 19 off at the knees.
Keep in mind that, should the initiative pass, none of the money generated from the sale and taxation of pot will go to the state government. It will be up to cities and counties to decide how to tax and regulate commercial sales.
California still is one of the most lenient states when it comes to dealing with crimes regarding marijuana. That goes back to the Moscone Act of 1976. It established that anyone caught with less than an ounce of marijuana will face a misdemeanor charge not punishable by jail time. It also established the fine at $100.
San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis pulls no punches on the issue of Prop 19. She calls it a classic case of bait and switch. In an editorial to the San Diego Union Tribune she points out that this proposition promises one thing but delivers something very different.
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"As prosecutors we're not spending a large amount of time or money on these cases because offenders typically just pay the fine". She points out what she refers to as a failed experiment in Alaska. "That state legalized marijuana in 1978. Twelve years later voters repealed the law when they learned that more than half of kids under 18 were using marijuana".
So will the passage of Prop 19 create more problems than it solves? That's the question Dumanis asks with regard to public safety. Roads becoming more dangerous with more drivers under the influence and more drug related accidents.
On Nov. 2, the voters will have their say. The question for those against Prop 19 is whether or not SB 1449 will be enough to keep it down.