Reduced Penalties for Drug Possession


California continues to move away from imposing jail and prison sentences for mere drug possession and toward a system that accommodates the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes and provides treatment for people arrested for drug use.

SB 1506State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) has introduced a bill that would classify as a misdemeanor any instance of drug possession as long as there is no intent to sell. Current state law allows authorities to charge some instances of drug possession as felonies, which results in longer jail terms and difficulties securing employment upon release. Leno's bill aims to keep to drug users out of jail and instead direct them into treatment programs. The savings from reduced jail and prison costs would be used to pay for treatment and guidance like that that already exists as part of Proposition 36.

A May 2012 poll by Tulchin Research shows that seventy percent of Californians favor this reduction in penalties. Even some law enforcement personnel are moving to this position. George Gascon, the District Attorney in San Francisco, supports the proposed changes to the law, saying that putting drug users in jail is like sending them to a "university of crime."

Medical Marijuana Program Act On the related issue of medical marijuana, a February 2012 California appellate court decision (Second District, Division Three) affirms that transportation of marijuana in the operation of a legitimate medical marijuana dispensary is allowed under California's Medical Marijuana Program Act (MMPA).

This decision stems from the conviction of William Colvin of Hollywood Holistic, Inc., a registered non-profit medical marijuana coop in Los Angeles County. Colvin was arrested with a pound of marijuana one block from the dispensary and was subsequently charged with and convicted of a variety of offenses, including possession and transportation of marijuana. The appellate court tossed out the possession and transportation convictions on the basis that the MMPA allowed Colvin to transport the marijuana as part of the operation of the dispensary.

It's also important to note that the court disagreed with the Attorney General's contention that only small-scale coops were authorized by the MMPA. Nothing in the law's text, the court said, indicated that the law would not apply to a large-scale operation like Hollywood Holistic. As long as a person is a qualified caregiver or patient and is a member of a legitimate cooperative, transportation of marijuana is allowed.