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Schwarzenegger signs bill reducing offense for marijuana possession

October 1, 2010 | 10:31 am

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger opposes Proposition 19, which would legalize the recreational use of marijuana, but he offered a consolation Thursday by signing a bill that would downgrade possession of an ounce or less from a misdemeanor to an infraction.

SB 1449 was written by state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who said it will keep marijuana-related cases from going to court-clogging jury trials, although the penalty would remain a fine of up to $100 but no jail time.

"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," Schwarzenegger wrote in a signing message.

"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 governor’s action was denounced by Randy Thomasson, president of saveCalifornia.com.

"This virtual legalization of marijuana definitely sends the wrong message to teenagers and young adults," Thomasson said. “It invites youth to become addicted to mind-altering pot because there's not much hassle and no public stigma and no rehab if they’re caught."

Not surprisingly, the governor was praised by Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML, which supports legalization.

"Gov. Schwarzenegger deserves credit for sparing the state's taxpayers the cost of prosecuting minor pot offenders," Gieringer said. "Californians increasingly recognize that the war on marijuana is a waste of law enforcement resources."

The new law takes effect Jan 1, 2011.

-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

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