California reduces possession of marijuana from misdemeanor to "infraction"

It’s a budgetary measure. These days, isn’t everything?

A month before California voters decide the fate of a ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a bill that essentially puts those caught possessing small amounts of the drug on the same level as those caught speeding on the freeway…

“The only difference is that because it is a misdemeanor, a criminal defendant is entitled to a jury trial,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said in a statement that accompanied his signature. “In this time of drastic budget cuts, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement and the courts cannot afford to expend limited resources prosecuting a crime that carries the same punishment as a traffic ticket.”…

Stephen Gutwillig, the California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, a group based in New York that advocates for drug law reform, said the law could be particularly meaningful for black men, who have been found to be arrested for possession at far higher rates than white men.

No more time and expense wasted on potential jury trials for those caught with an ounce or less of weed, in other words — and no more criminal records for offenders. NORML is, as you might imagine, ecstatic. One thing I don’t get, though: Schwarzenegger opposes Proposition 19, the ballot measure California’s set to vote on next month that would decriminalize marijuana possession entirely. That being so, why’d he sign this new bill now instead of waiting until after the vote? All this does is generate a news cycle reminding voters that Sacramento is already moving towards decriminalization. Softens up the opposition a bit, no?

The latest poll on Prop 19, by the way, has 52 percent in favor. Gird your loins. Exit question: Should this be Christie’s next crusade in New Jersey? He’s already got some libertarian cred thanks to his union dragonslaying. Might as well cement it by going to bat for weed.