A $100 fine is the maximum penalty of being caught with less than an ounce of marijuana in California, after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Bill 1449 into law Thursday night.
What used to result in a criminal misdemeanour charge is now no more than a civil infraction in the Golden State. Those caught with less than 28.5 grams of marijuana will no longer have to appear in court and face a criminal record.
Californians with a Medical Marijuana Identification Card are exempt from the fine.
The California bill was passed by the Senate in June and the Assembly at the end of August, but it didn’t become law until Schwarzenegger signed it. The bill was among nearly 800 gathering dust on his desk; the governor sent a Tweet from his iPhone after he got through the stack.
“With my fantastic legislative unit after finishing acting on all 772 bills that were on my desk,” he wrote.
The new law takes effect Jan. 1, 2010. The possession of concentrated cannabis, defined by the Health and Safety Code as “the separated resin, whether crude or purified, obtained from marijuana,” is still punishable by up to one year in state prison and up to a $500 fine.
Canadians eligible for medical marijuana can order about 30 grams from Health Canada for $150 plus tax, which varies from province to province.
Under Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the possession of the same amount of marijuana without medical permission is punishable by up to six months behind bars and up to a $1,000 fine if it is a first offence.
Schwarzenegger has been a staunch opponent of Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana under California state law and allow the government to tax and regulate its production, distribution and sale. Californians will vote on that proposition in the Nov. 2 general election.
In an L.A. Times editorial last week, Schwarzenegger said legalizing marijuana would “make California a laughingstock.”
However, in a signing message Schwarzenegger wrote, “Notwithstanding my opposition to Proposition 19, however, I am signing this measure because possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is an infraction in everything but name. The only difference is that because it is a misdemeanour, a criminal defendant is entitled to a jury trial and a defence attorney.
“In this time of drastic budget cuts, prosecutors, defence attorneys, law enforcement, and the courts cannot afford to expend limited resources prosecuting a crime that carries the same punishment as a traffic ticket.”
Proponents of legalization say voting yes would generate billions in revenue for the state and weaken dangerous drug cartels.
No jail for possessing an ounce of weed in California