$100 punishment for pot use is petty cash

Jessica Estrada

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When the New Year’s bells rang, smoking pot in California got a little less criminal and it could it be a slippery slope toward it not being a crime at all.

As of Jan. 1, 2011, marijuana smokers caught by police with up to one ounce of pot will no longer face a misdemeanor charge and will only be subject to an infraction citation with a fine of up to $100.

This change means offenders won’t face a court trial or have the violation on their criminal record, making the crime no more serious than a speeding ticket.

But reducing the penalties to the lowest level of criminal offense may send a message to the public that marijuana is no big deal and could change the stigma attached to the drug.

Proponents of marijuana use were dealt a blow this past November when California voters defeated a proposition that would have legalized it, but this new law could be the next best thing for both pot smokers and taxpayers.

Senate Bill 1449 will lower state costs by reducing the number of misdemeanors easing the financial strain on the state, which is burdened by a massive deficit. Downgrading the penalties for possession of marijuana eliminates court trials and resources used to prosecute offenders thus saving the state millions of dollars.

In a signed statement by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger he said, “In this time of drastic budget cuts, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement, and the courts cannot afford to expend limited resources prosecuting a crime that carries the same punishment as a traffic ticket.”

The criminal justice system will now be able to concentrate their time and resources on more serious crimes.

And there is no sense in wasting taxpayer money on court costs and other resources to prosecute offenders for possession of marijuana when, lets face it, it’s everywhere.

Marijuana laws are the equivalent of alcohol prohibition, which was proven many years ago to be ineffective. Just as people got their hands on bootleg booze, recreational users of marijuana find it. Marijuana is an easily attainable drug despite it being illegal.

A simple violation such as possession, if treated as a misdemeanor can potentially ruin a person’s future by branding them a criminal. A misdemeanor conviction appears on a person’s permanent record and can have serious consequences for their future.

However, if controlling drug use is the state’s goal then a mere $100 fine, no jail time and no criminal record is likely not going to be effective in discouraging marijuana consumers.