Pot possession becomes an infraction starting Jan. 1

December 27, 2010 7:00:44 PM PST
In a matter of days, getting caught with an ounce of marijuana will be about the same as getting a speeding or littering ticket. Opponents say the new state law sends the wrong message, but some supporters say it will save the cash-strapped courts much needed money.

At Oakland's Oaksterdam University, where the curriculum is all things cannabis, the feeling is this change in law is just a sign of what is to come.

"As we treat possession like a parking ticket it's going to be harder and harder to treat production and sales and distribution as a major crime," Oaksterdam University founder Richard Lee said.

Until now, possession of an ounce of pot was a misdemeanor, punishable by a $100 fine. The new law makes it an infraction that comes with the same price tag.

State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, introduced the bill and when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed it in the fall, he said California simply cannot afford to prosecute a crime that carries the same punishment as traffic ticket.

To the founder of Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana it is the worst law of the year.

"I believe this has knocked out one of the key pillars of prevention to help kids say, 'We're not doing drugs,'" Carla Lowe said.

Several law enforcement groups also oppose it, but one of the Bay Area's top cops thinks it is a good idea.

"I think it's a good thing because it is calling the offense what it has always been, which is an infraction," San Mateo County District Attorney Jim Fox said.

Fox says the new law means courts will no longer have to spend money to prosecute a crime that does not send the offender to jail.

"Frankly in our fiscal crisis right now, we need to try to save money however we can," Fox said.


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