California Bill Would Make Growing Pot a Misdemeanor (Sometimes)


A bill that supposedly has a good chance of being approved by the California legislature would give local prosecutors the discretion to charge marijuana cultivation as a misdemeanor rather than a felony. The bill, introduced by California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) and endorsed by the district attorneys of pot-growing Humboldt and Mendocino counties, promises to save taxpayers money by giving growers probation, fines, or short jail terms rather than prison sentences. Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster explains the rationale:

When it comes to marijuana cultivation, one size does not fit all. The proposed change affords local District Attorneys the charging discretion to determine, for example, that a home gardener with a few non-medical marijuana plants will not be prosecuted at the same level as a profiteer operating a major marijuana plantation. It makes no sense that unlawful possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is an infraction, that possession of more than an ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor, that possession of methamphetamines may be charged as a misdemeanor, but that growing any amount of marijuana must be charged as a straight felony punishable by prison.

Leaving aside the question of whether any penalty for growing pot can be considered appropriate, Eyster has a point. But I am uncomfortable with legislation that enhances prosecutors' power to dictate defendants' fates by deciding what charges to bring. Although penalties based on quantity have their own problems, it seems to me it would be better to require that cultivation below a certain amount must be treated as a misdemeanor. Still, the net result of the change proposed by Ammiano is apt to be shorter sentences for many small-scale growers, perhaps at the cost of greater inequality (because similarly situated defendants may face dramatically different punishments when they are prosecuted by district attorneys with different attitudes toward pot). Since it's hard to see how the bill will make defendants worse off, it looks like an improvement to me. 

The text of Ammiano's bill is here (PDF).

[Thanks to CK for the tip.]

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  1. Yeah, prosecutors often campaign on how easy they go on drug criminals.

    1. I’ve often pointed out, I vividly recall an election in Texas in which a judge actually used the number of people he had sentenced to death as a campaign point. He was elected by a large majority.

      I’m afraid as long as people have the bloodthirsty attitude of “everyone who takes drugs is a disgusting addict and everyone who breaks the laws must be destroyed (absolute order > liberty)”, we’re not going to make much progress.

      1. This is the “let’s quit putting white people in jail but lock up the coloreds” bill.

        1. It’s a start!

    2. When 2/3rds of your county’s economy is based on growing pot, it makes sense to campaign on not being tough on drugs.

  2. Who is California Bill? Is he like Yosemite Sam?

  3. Still, the net result of the change proposed by Ammiano is apt to be shorter sentences for many small-scale growers,

    I dunno, seems like you’re putting a little too much faith in prosecutors. I’d also like to see a hard rule on this, but maybe they’re afraid it wouldn’t pass if it was too explicit.

    1. They could make it explicit, but it’s hard to justify a law that says “possession of 4 marijuana plants is a misdemeanor if you are white” when you get to the federal appeals court.

  4. It makes no sense

    At least we agree on something.

  5. Yeah, I’d prefer to see a bill that took away prosecutors discretion to charge pot possessors/distributors/growers at all.

    But who knows? Maybe this will prove a step in the right direction.

  6. and endorsed by the district attorneys of pot-growing Humboldt and Mendocino counties,

    Might be cynical, but I read this bill as protectionism; the assumption is the local “mom and pop” northern california growers will get off easy, while prosecutors can still go after the big bad gangs.

    1. luv ur name dude. im gonna use it on other sites so u dont know

  7. Yeah well, and in San Francisco they want to ban circumcision, let’s see if I understand liberal logic in the sewer by the bay.

    Free sex changes for transexuals city workers? Yes!
    Gun shops within city limits? No!
    Men walking with boners during the Folsom Street Fair? Yes!
    ROTC in public schools? No!
    City can’t do business with companies that “discriminate?” Yes!
    Carnivores are discriminated against during Meatless Mondays? Yes!
    Freedom of religion i.e. freedom to circumcise your child? Not if the voters approve initiative.

    Liberals are crazy!

    1. Freedom to circumcise your son, you mean.

    2. T-shirts for the rally:
      “Only uncut goes in my butt!”

      1. any follow-up on my recent question about Rule 34 applying to t-shirts?

        1. Would it be affirmative if the shirts had pecker tracks up the back after the rally?

  8. Oh, by the way, another of my predictions is coming true. Oregon legislators are sitting up and taking notice that all the people being prescribed medical marijuana may not be deserving of the medicinal effects, and are moving to restrict prescriptions.

    It’s the second time in recent weeks that the issue has come up, as some lawmakers have made it clear they think too many people are scamming the law that allows use of cannabis to treat some diseases and symptoms.

    “I personally think the program is out of control,” said Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, sponsor of one of the bills targeting the growth of medical marijuana use. “I know people who just find it a legal way to smoke pot.”

    Kruse said he came up with the list after asking a number of doctors what kind of conditions marijuana is effective against. He said he hears from law enforcement, particularly in southern Oregon, that marijuana use is rampant, partly because of its legal use for medical reasons.

    1. There is a silver lining in its listing with greater specificity of the conditions for which cannabis is to be used: acknowledgment that it really is medicine, not just a feel-good. That’s got to help legitimize it.

  9. There is one way it might make violators worse off: same as when they reduce the penalty for an infraction in football, thinking the officials will call it more often.

    Consider, for instance, what the scene would be like if the penalty were increased to mandatory death by slow dismemberment. Probably then nobody would be prosecuted.

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