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New Marijuana Law Decreases Penalty

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The deadline for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign or veto hundreds of bills passed Thursday night. One of the bills he signed into law changes the penalty for marijuana possession.

— The deadline for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign or veto hundreds of bills passed Thursday night. One of the bills he signed into law changes the penalty for marijuana possession.

The penalty for people caught with small amounts of marijuana in California will stay the same under the new law. They’ll be fined $100. But, instead of being cited with a misdemeanor, the fine will be treated like a traffic ticket.

Proponents of the law say it will free up overburdened courts when it goes into effect in January. That's technically true since people cited with misdemeanors must appear in court.

“We do not normally go to court for infractions," said Andrew Jones, San Diego assistant city attorney for the criminal division. "Normally when a police officer writes an infraction, which is a ticket, the police officer himself or herself represents the people at that hearing.”

However, Jones added marijuana misdemeanor cases account for less than 1 percent of the 25,000 cases the city attorney’s office has processed this year.

While his office's workload might be lightened by removing these cases from the downtown criminal courts' dockets, he pointed out that the responsibility gets shifted elsewhere.

“Certainly, it would make a difference from the standpoint of not having them downtown," Jones said. "But, it won’t effect how the police officers are trying each of the cases.”

In November, voters will have the chance to free up the police time devoted to these cases. They will be voting on Proposition 19, which would legalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.

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