Growing marijuana could soon be a misdemeanor if the Legislature passes a bill sponsored State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano.
His bill would change marijuana cultivation from a mandatory felony to a so-called wobbler offense, giving district attorneys the option of charging it as a misdemeanor or a felony. The bill made it out of committee Wednesday and will now head to the Assembly floor.
California residents voted against legalizing marijuana last year, but the state has been rolling back criminal penalties for marijuana-related offenses. In October, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law making possession of an ounce or less of marijuana an infraction, punishable by a $100 fine.
Patrick Goggin, a San Francisco lawyer who has worked on hemp legislation in Sacramento, said Ammiano’s bill has a good chance of passing through the assembly and the senate. The question will be whether Gov. Jerry Brown, who is close with the prison guards union, is willing to sign it, he said.
“It could be a difficult decision for him because of the relationship he has with the prison guards,” said Goggin. “At the same time everything’s about reducing the deficit, and this would be a deficit reduction measure because fewer people would be going to state prison.”
While felonies are punishable with state prison terms, misdemeanors can carry lighter penalties like fines or time in county jail.
The bill, AB 1017, would leave the decision of whether pot growers should be charged with felonies or misdemeanors up to local district attorneys. Under the bill, growing an acre of marijuana could be treated as a misdemeanor.
District attorneys from Humboldt and Mendocino Counties, where marijuana cultivation is one of the leading industries, support the law.
In case anyone forgot, marijuana is still illegal under federal law.