The law affects people caught with an ounce or less of marijuana. Until now, that’s been a misdemeanor, which includes the option of a trial. Going forward it will be an infraction. The punishment – a 100 dollar fine – remains the same. The big difference is the cost to the state, says Democratic Senator Mark Leno. He wrote the bill:
“Anyone tried with a misdemeanor has the option of a jury trial. Jury trials cost about 1,000 and you can see that if the punishment for that jury trial is maximum 100 dollars, this is going to be a great cost to the state.”
Leno estimates California will save tens of millions of dollars a year.
When Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill, he also highlighted the cost savings. Schwarzenegger talked about his decision during an appearance on NBC’s Tonight Show with Jay Leno:
“I think the laws that we passed, they were good. It makes it from a misdemeanor to an infraction and no one cares if you smoke a joint or not.”
Stephen Gutwillig is with the Drug Policy Alliance. He supports the new law – but says it didn’t go far enough. He says young African-Americans and Latinos are disproportionately charged with marijuana possession and the new law makes it harder to track that:
“Misdemeanor arrest data is available from the Department of Justice. But not data on infractions.”
The conservative group Save-California-dot-com opposes the new law, arguing that it invites more young people to become addicted to marijuana.