Smaller Penalties for Pot Start Saturday

By Matt Baume
|  Friday, Dec 31, 2010  |  Updated 3:07 PM PDT
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Starting Saturday, it'll be a little bit easier to relax when you're walking around with cannabis in your pocket.

New laws take effect on Jan. 1, reducing the penalty for possessing small amounts of pot from misdemeanor to infraction, the same level of punishment as a speeding ticket. If you're caught, you won't be arrested and you won't get a criminal record. Police will also have less leeway for searching your possessions. You'll still be required to pay a $100 fine, so you still probably shouldn't wave your joints around too publicly.

But of course, if you behave belligerently when stopped, an officer could still cook up a reason to arrest you simply for having a bad attitude.

Most observers see it as an incremental step toward the inevitable legalization of the drug, which is relatively harmless and (arguable) medically beneficial despite its classification as a Schedule I drug. Many cities around the state will also be loosening their restrictions on cultivating cannabis soon.

A police Captain in Santa Rosa observed that the change would reduce investigations into drug use, freeing officers to pursue other crimes, according to the Press Democrat. It will also reduce the cost of fighting charges in court. State courts face tens of thousands of cases relating to marijuana, and switching from misdemeanor to infraction will streamline the enforcement of penalties.

The new law is expected to particularly benefit young people, who tend to smoke pot in greater numbers, as well as economically vulnerable individuals who lack the means to fight criminal charges.

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