Personal-use pot to go unpunished

From teenagers to the elderly and everyone in between, the widespread use of marijuana throughout California is no secret. With numerous medical marijuana dispensaries popping up throughout Los Angeles with the ferocity of a quick-spreading wildfire, it appears as if the marijuana "movement" is steadily gaining speed.

Adding fuel to the fire, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed SB 1449 into law. Set to take effect on January 1, 2011, this new law will reduce the penalty for the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction. No longer do the citizens of California need to worry about spending time in court, and ultimately in jail, for being caught with the once forbidden flower. Rather, they must only consider whether or not getting weeded is worth risking a fine of up to $100.

Despite Schwarzenegger's vehement opposition to Proposition 19, a statewide initiative on the November ballot, which would allow the recreational use of marijuana, he signed the bill into law in one of his last legislative acts of duty.

This new law is intended to help reduce the vast amounts of money, which California spends prosecuting more than 60,000 misdemeanor arrest for simple possession of marijuana annually. "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," said Schwarzenegger.

Despite possible good intentions, the move seems a bit contradictory on the part of the Governor, and may very well undermine support for Proposition 19.

While the reasoning behind decreasing the penalty for possession appears to be in the interest of the greater good of California, opposing Proposition 19 still makes no sense at all.

If passed, the proposition would likely allow the state some much-needed budgetary breathing room. It seems as if the answer to many of the state's money problems are right in front of the governor's eyes, and yet he can't see past his own beliefs and do what is best for the state.

California currently has the largest budget deficit of any American state. It is expected that whoever replaces Schwarzenegger, will inherit a $10 billion deficit, which California is expected to reach next year. It is also estimated that the currently untaxed marijuana market would produce $1.4 billion for the state a year. It seems as though the answer to our state's financial shortcomings are staring us straight in the face.

The U.S. government has shown it has no problem legalizing and taxing the use of alcohol, which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been the direct cause of approximately 79,000 deaths annually, and is currently the third leading, lifestyle-related cause of death, for people in the United States each year.

Marijuana, on the other hand, has never been directly linked to a single death, and yet is still classified as an illegal substance, even though it is virtually impossible to overdose on.

It remains a mystery to me why anyone would be against something with the potential to contribute immensely to the crisis California is facing. Are the politicians in California truly that stubborn that they would rather continue to take money from schools and healthcare, than legalize something that is already as easy to obtain as Aspirin?

Pot, weed, or whatever you choose to call it, is destined to become a normal part of American life, just as alcohol did in the post-prohibition era. It is time for Californians to take the lead, expand their horizons and accept that the times are a changing.  It is necessary to embrace Proposition 19 for all the good things it will do for the state we live in, if not for the state of our minds. SB 1449 is a step in the right direction, but not quite the endgame.