What is Marijuana Decriminalization?


Marijuana Decriminalization Should Be In Every State

To some of our readers, this may seem to be an easy question to answer. ‘It means that you can’t go to jail for having a personal amount of weed, right?’ No jail time is just one element of marijuana decriminalization; there are many other factors involved. To illustrate my point, I will use my home State of Oregon and our ‘decriminalized’ neighbor to the south, California.

In Oregon, “possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is punishable only by a fine of $500 up to a maximum of $1000. Possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is a violation, not a criminal conviction.” Essentially, you get a ‘ticket,’ much like you would for a parking violation (although a bit more expensive!). If you pay the ticket, there are no further actions against you. It's been that way in the great State of Oregon since 1973.

I know this for a fact, because I was on the receiving end of one of these ‘tickets’ in Oregon before. I was on my way back from a trip up North, and was pulled over on the freeway. I had 14 grams (good BC, before Operation Frozen Timber) in one of my pockets, and another gram in my other pocket (extra super gram!). One of my best friends was in the passenger seat with a pipe and 2 grams of some super.

Apparently, the cop was pulling me over to ‘randomly check my insurance paperwork,’ at which point he smelled marijuana in the car and proceeded to call for a K-9 backup. Before the K-9 arrived, I volunteered to let the officer search my vehicle. I knew he was going to do it anyway, and I was not afraid of getting a ‘ticket’ for possession of less than an ounce, and neither was my passenger, so figured what the hell might as well save some time.

After many field sobriety tests (passed them all), turning my vehicle inside out, and questioning me about a ‘mysteriously large suitcase in the trunk full of empty heat sealed bags and men’s dirty underwear’ the officers put us back in my vehicle. One of the officers reluctantly wrote us each a ticket for $500, and told us ‘I’m not dumb. I know what’s going on here. You don’t have anything on you that is a crime in this State, but if I ever see you on this stretch of freeway again, I’m going to pull you over. And I suspect that your suitcase will have more than empty bags and dirty underwear in it next time…’

It’s a long way to tell a story about decriminalization in Oregon, but it illustrates the point nicely, and I love to tell that story! Since then I have worked at three jobs that required extensive background checks, including criminal history, driving history, etc, and it has never shown up at all. It’s not a crime and it’s not a driving infraction, so after I paid the fine, there has been nothing affecting my life in any way; no classes, no follow up, nothing.

Now let’s compare Oregon to California, which is a state commonly thought to have decriminalized marijuana. When compared to most states, California has decriminalized marijuana to a great extent. However, it has not been decriminalized all the way (like in Oregon). As of right now, in California, “every person who possesses not more than 28.5 grams of marijuana, other than concentrated cannabis, is guilty of a misdemeanor” which is still technically a crime. California makes up for it by providing that “(1) the court shall divert and refer the defendant for education, treatment, or rehabilitation, as specified, and (2) an arrested person who gives satisfactory evidence of identity and a written promise to appear in court shall not be subjected to booking.”

Essentially, the judge/officer has the option to give you a fine and nothing more, a fine and some rehab, or if you don’t satisfy their ‘evidence of identity’ requirement in anyway (pretty vague huh?), they can arrest you, issue you a fine, AND give you rehab. It’s entirely up to the officer/magistrate which route they want to take. I will admit that most of the cases result in the accused party not being arrested and eventually getting everything dropped after fines are paid, but wouldn’t it be better to not give law enforcement the option? I didn’t have to do anything except pay my fine in Oregon, and had no inconveniences caused to me above and beyond that. You tell me which policy is REAL decriminalization, as well as which process wastes more tax dollars?

Fortunately for the residents of California, REAL decriminalization might be a reality very soon. California SB 1449 was introduced by Senator Mark Leno earlier this year, and it would change the classification of possession of less than one ounce of marijuana to an infraction (like Oregon) instead of its current classification as a misdemeanor. I called Senator Leno’s office today, and was told that the bill is still waiting for a vote, but it is on the Senate Floor and could get its chance any day now. If you are in California, keep calling your State Senator urging a vote. For that matter, if you are ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD READING THIS, call California Senators and urge them to pick it up for a vote. If you are in another state, and you are waiting for decriminalization, make sure you are getting REAL decriminalization, and not decriminalization in sheep’s clothing…

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