Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed into law a bill that reduces the penalty for an ounce of marijuana possession in California to the status of an infraction, according to the Fresno Bee. While the bill has little practical effect in terms of application, it does reduce criminal charges from a misdemeanor to the mere status of a parking ticket — with a $100 fine. Californians are preparing to go to the polls in November to decide whether to legalize marijuana entirely, under Proposition 19, and the change in law hands a small boost to advocates seeking legalization.
The Christian Science Monitor is noting that changes to marijuana legislation may also energize the Democratic base in California, South Dakota, Arizona, and Oregon, all states in which Democrats have had to play defense in coming elections. The approaching vote to legalize medical marijuana in South Dakota, for example, could bring out a stronger vote for imperiled At-Large Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, a Democrat facing a serious challenge for the first time in years from Republican Kristi Noem.
Arizona’s Proposition 203 would legalize 2.5 ounces every two weeks from licensed dispensaries for conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, and chronic pain. It is expected that medical marijuana would also provide the state with financial benefits while at the same time potentially further straining law enforcement agencies forced to crack down on illegal distributors taking advantage of what could be viewed as more lax laws in the state. Five Arizona county sheriffs and 11 county attorneys oppose Proposition 203, according to the Tucson Sentinel.
Meanwhile, as reported by the Jackson News, medical marijuana legalization in Michigan is causing headaches for newly opened dispensaries, as raids conducted in Oakland County have put a pall on the practices. Dispensaries, arguing they have the law on their side, have been threatened in other locations as law enforcement agencies and local communities have worked to limit their ability to operate, taking advantage of vaguely worded sections of the law or sections they’re deeming open to further interpretation.
The State of the States on Marijuana Laws
Legal medical use and decriminalization laws exist in Alaska, California, Nevada, Oregon, Colorado, and Maine. Those with decriminalization laws are Nebraska, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio, North Carolina, New York, and Massachusetts. States with medical cannabis laws are Hawaii, Washington, Montana, Michigan, New Jersey, Vermont, and Rhode Island. A number of other states are in the process of legalizing medical marijuana or relaxing marijuana laws, including Illinois, Arkansas, South Dakota, Arizona, and Washington D.C. In Maryland, defendants in marijuana-related crimes can be fined only $100 if they are found to have a medical necessity for its use.
Peter Hecht, “Governor signs bill to downgrade pot possession to an infraction” Fresno Bee
Fritz Klug, “Cloud of uncertainty engulfs medical marijuana dispensaries in Jackson area” Jackson News
Gail Russell Chaddock, “Marijuana initiatives could bring young Democrats to the polls” Christian Science Monitor
David Rookhuyzen, “Supporters: Ailing Arizonans would benefit from medical marijuana” Tucson Sentinel