Senate Panel OKs Lesser Charge for Possession

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, May 10, 2001.

  1. By Greg Lucas, Sacramento Bureau Chief
    Source: San Francisco Chronicle

    Possessing less than an ounce of marijuana would become an infraction instead of a misdemeanor under a bill approved by a Senate committee yesterday. The bill was suggested by former San Francisco Sen. Quentin Kopp, who is now a San Mateo County Superior Court Judge.
    "The point of the bill from my standpoint is administration of justice. The way the law is written now, it does not enhance the administration of justice, " Kopp told the Senate Public Safety Committee.

    Sponsored by GOP Sen. Bruce McPherson of Santa Cruz, the bill is aimed at reducing court time by reclassifying possession. Most misdemeanors carry maximum fines of six months in jail or a $1,000 fine. Marijuana possession, however, carries only a $100 fine.

    But if someone is charged with a misdemeanor, he or she is entitled to a lawyer and a trial by either judge or jury. Those trials can last two or three days.

    Kopp argued that there is no incentive for someone accused of possession not to take the case to trial -- and waste court time and money -- when the worst exposure is a $100 fine.

    The Judicial Council, which backs the measure, estimates that simple possession jury trials cost $4,500 per day.

    Unlike misdemeanors, infractions do not become part of a person's permanent criminal record. But from a practical standpoint, many law enforcement jurisdictions do not record misdemeanor marijuana possessions because of the small fine.

    There were opponents to the bill.

    The California Narcotics Officers Association argued that if marijuana possession were reduced to an infraction it would make people ineligible for treatment under Proposition 36, the drug rehabilitation measure approved in November 2000.

    It's unclear whether that is true. The initiative prescribes treatment for anyone convicted of a "nonviolent drug offense," which some argue would include infractions.

    In an attempt to avoid the possibility that an infraction would preclude treatment, McPherson changed the bill so that a judge or prosecutor could treat a second possession offense as a misdemeanor.

    Art Croney of the Committee on Moral Concerns opposed the measure, but said the bill would not "have a significant impact one way or the other."

    But, Croney added, the bill is "another message marijuana is almost OK."

    Snapped Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-Santa Clara: "It's far less dangerous than alcohol, which kills millions." Not legalizing marijuana, Vasconcellos said, "is the stupidest thing in law in the United States."

    Possession of less than an ounce of marijuana was essentially decriminalized in 1975 by a bill by the late Sen. George Moscone.

    Until then, possession -- of any amount of marijuana -- was a felony. Moscone's bill made it a misdemeanor with a $100 fine.

    The bill must still win approval of the full Senate, the Assembly and a signature by Gov. Gray Davis to become law.

    Complete Title: Senate Panel OKs Lesser Charge for Possession of Less Than Ounce

    Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
    Author: Greg Lucas, Sacramento Bureau Chief
    Published: Wednesday, May 9, 2001
    Copyright: 2001 San Francisco Chronicle

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