CA NORML Legislative News
Ironically, although California NORML and other drug reform groups opposed SB 797 on account of the increased fine, the bill was perceived as a decriminalization measure by the legislature.
NORML had supported an earlier version of the bill, introduced in 2001 by Sen. Bruce McPherson and Judge Quentin Kopp, which would have simply downgraded possession to an infraction. This would have spared minor pot offenders the necessity of a court appearance and the stain of a criminal record. That bill and a successor by Sen. Sher in 2004 were defeated in the Assembly due to opposition from law enforcement and legislators afraid of appearing soft on crime.
In order to attract support from law enforcement, this yearıs bill was modified to increase the fine from $100 to $250. This caused drug reformers to turn against it. Nonetheless, the bill continued to enjoy support from reform-leaning legislators. In the end, the 31 votes for the bill came from the the pro-reform wing of the Assembly - all Democrats - while the 40 nays came from opponents.
"Defeating SB 797 was like winning the game when your opponent mistakenly scores the ball in your own goal," says California NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer, "Unfortunately, the struggle over this bill shows how difficult it is to overcome Sacramentoıs resistance to softening pot penalties."
This is not the first time when drug reformers have been at odds with their friends in the legislature on marijuana legislation. Most activists opposed Sen. Vasconcellosı medical marijuana bill SB 420 after it was modified to include the six-plant limit. Still, the bill was viewed as a pro-reform measure in the legislature and was opposed only by enemies of Prop. 215.
California NORML plans to lobby for stronger reformmeasures, such as decriminalization of personal cultivation, in upcoming sessions of the legislature.