While recreational marijuana legalization has come to Colorado and Washington State, it may seem odd that it remains possible to be arrested for pot possession in California. But the defeat of Proposition 19 by voter referendum in 2010 effectively did that, even though medical marijuana legalization has made pot readily available under arguably lax rules since 1996.
What former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger effectively did in 2010 was decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana under SB 1449. Under this law, possession of an ounce or less is not even a misdemeanor but an infraction (on the level with a traffic ticket). When studied two years after enactment, the Center of Juvenile and Criminal Justice found that drug arrests went down by nearly 50 percent in the first year after the bill became law. Violent crimes also dropped during that time and homicides went down by 26 percent. State officials praise the move as a means of reducing costs associated with law enforcement, prosecution and incarceration.
However, it still is possible to be arrested, convicted and penalized for marijuana offenses – even a small amount not prescribed for medical purposes involves a $100 fine. Here are other limits to California’s decriminalization status:
Possession of 28.5 grams or more is a misdemeanor, involving $250-500 in fines and up to 10 days incarceration.
Any amount with intention to distribute is a felony, involving 16-36 months incarceration.
Cultivation of marijuana plants is a felony, involving 16-36 months incarceration.
Sale or delivery of any amount is a felony, involving up to two to four years incarceration.
So, while the state wishes not to engage in small quantity, personal use prosecution, slightly larger possession and trafficking can lead to serious punishment.