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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

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2/14/2014 11:55:00 AM
Lawmaker: Remove felony charge for simple marijuana possession
Rep. Mark A. Cardenas, D-Phoenix, wants to remove felony charges for possession of marijuana without the intent to sell. “I don’t believe they should go away to prison and face hefty fines and possibly have their civil rights taken away,” he said. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Moriah Costa)
Rep. Mark A. Cardenas, D-Phoenix, wants to remove felony charges for possession of marijuana without the intent to sell. “I don’t believe they should go away to prison and face hefty fines and possibly have their civil rights taken away,” he said. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Moriah Costa)
Penalties under the bill:
Possession without intent to sell

Proposed:


• Less than 1 ounce: civil penalty of up to $100.

• Less than 2 pounds: petty offense.

• 2 pounds or more: class three misdemeanor.

Current law:

• Less than 2 pounds: class six felony.

• Between 2 and 4 pounds: class five felony.

• 4 pounds or more: class four felony.

Growing marijuana

Proposed:


• Less than 2 pounds: class three misdemeanor.

• 2 and 4 pounds: class six felony.

• 4 pounds or more: class five felony.

Current law:

• Less than 2 pounds: class five felony.

• 2 and 4 pounds: class four felony.

• 4 pounds or more: class three felony.

Possession with intent to sell

No proposed changes.



BY MORIAH COSTA
Cronkite News Service

PHOENIX - Saying harsh penalties for marijuana use do more harm than good, a state lawmaker wants to remove felony charges for possession without the intent to sell.

"I don't believe they should go away to prison and face hefty fines and possibly have their civil rights taken away," said Rep. Mark A. Cardenas, D-Phoenix. "We shouldn't have people that are being sentenced to long prison terms for simple possession of marijuana."

Cardenas authored HB 2474, which would subject those carrying less than 1 ounce of marijuana without intent to sell to a civil penalty of no more than $100. Possession of less than 2 pounds without intent to sell would be a petty offense, while possession of greater amounts would be a misdemeanor.

Currently, possession of up to two pounds is a class six felony, punishable by up to two years in prison and a $750 fine.

The bill would reduce the charge for growing marijuana from a felony to a misdemeanor if the amount is less than 2 pounds.

Cardenas said he was against legalization when he served in the Army and National Guard but that his views changed after taking an Arizona State University class on drugs and justice.

"It took being willing to learn from facts and figures to say, I was wrong," he said. "Let's change that. Let's try to change my corner of the world."

His bill was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee but hadn't been scheduled for a hearing.

Cardenas also signed onto a bill that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana. HB 2558, authored by Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, had yet to be assigned to a committee.

While Cardenas is for marijuana legalization, he said "the next best option would be to decriminalize small amounts."

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said reducing marijuana possession penalties would undermine efforts by counties to rehabilitate first- and second-time offenders who aren't facing other charges. Those successfully completing the diversion program avoid criminal records.

"The irony is that if you try to reduce those penalties, you are going to wind up with people who are going to have maybe an ostensibly lower level offense, but they're going to have more of a conviction record than people who could initially be charged with a felony and be offered diversion and have no record," he said.

Montgomery said that in 2013, 63 percent of the diversion cases in Maricopa County were for marijuana possession, and 85 percent of those in the program successfully completed it.

Nine other counties have similar diversion prosecution programs, according to the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys' Advisory Council.

Montgomery said the idea that Arizona's prisons are full of marijuana-possession offenders. According to the 2011 Arizona Sentencing Report from the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys' Advisory Council, about 95 percent of inmates in Arizona's prison system have committed multiple or violent felonies.

"If that's the motivation of this bill, it's a solution in search of a problem," he said.

Carolyn Short, chairwoman for Keep AZ Drug Free, a committee that opposed the 2010 medical marijuana ballot initiative, said the idea of reduce sentences for marijuana possession isn't rational and ignores scientific fact.

"It's just another way of communicating to kids that its not that big of a deal and it really is a big deal," she said. "We already have two substances now that are legal, alcohol and tobacco, that are creating damage economically and socially to our society."

Dennis Bohlke, spokesperson for Safer Arizona, a marijuana advocacy group that approached Cardenas about HB 2474, said he believes that current drug laws are harming youth.

"I can't think of any reason why we should charge young people for using marijuana," he said.

The group is trying to collect enough signatures to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the ballot in November.

Cardenas thinks it's time to rethink how marijuana possession is viewed in Arizona.

"The amount of money that we're spending hasn't dropped the number of people that are caught with possession, it hasn't done anything to reduce cartel violence, and I would say it's a victimless crime," he said.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Article comment by: Nigel Smedley

If someone can sell it behind a counter and sell it without the stigma of a felony record then previous convictions (even distribution of marijuana) should be removed retro actively in every state. It's wrong to have a two standard system. The rules have changed the federal government is also in compliance so a retroactive change is warranted.

Posted: Monday, February 17, 2014
Article comment by: Check Out

saferaz.org This is a citizens initiative to legalize marijuana. Sign the petition, get a petition and circulate it. Buy a t-shirt and represent. It is time to end felony charges for personal possesion at the very least!

Posted: Monday, February 17, 2014
Article comment by: Boss Illuminati

the greatest plant in the universe is almost free, LET FREEDOM RING!!!13

marijuana is California’s #1 crop, yet it’s illegal in the backwards USA, half my family and friends have grown for generations for a rapidly growing estimated 15 billion dollar cali crop..

from 0 states to half the country, from low 20% approval to almost 70%, cali runs this planet by 2 decades, time to tie marijuana to the 2014, and 2016 elections

20 years behind us southern states, sad and scary....nobody denies freedoms like the south, nobody...even if marijuana reforms did pass the republiCANTS in charge would deny you all your freedoms, centuries of practice...no matter though, we never planned on getting your backwards brethren from day one, half the country already but not one southern state, lol...

love and freedom forever

AMERICA'S WAR ON DRUGS IS A WAR ON AMERICANS!!!33


Posted: Sunday, February 16, 2014
Article comment by: David Kessler

This prohibition is a destructive and costly failure. Despite the current annual price tag of nearly $86 million spent enforcing laws against possession in Arizona according to a recent analysis by the ACLU, marijuana is widely available, especially to adolescents. Adolescents are at higher risk of developing problems with marijuana. If we can regulate substances like alcohol and tobacco that actually kill many more people we can regulate marijuana. Unlike drug dealers regulated marijuana retailers in Colorado do not deal drugs like cocaine, heroin, meth, or prescription medicines. They check IDs to make sure they won’t lose their licenses to sell marijuana and they do not sell to kids. The government's own SAMHSA drug surveys have reported for many years that our kids say they can now get marijuana more easily than they can get alcohol or tobacco. We haven't listened. In 10 years I believe you will look back and agree that regulation is simply common sense when it comes to protecting the public and our youth. Not only has prohibition failed it has been unequally enforced. Despite similar use rates, blacks in Arizona are 2.4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites. Arizona already has a reputation for intolerance toward minorities. This is an outrage to any who demand that our laws apply to everyone.

Posted: Sunday, February 16, 2014
Article comment by: Carl Nye

To Where Do, and KJK ~

Petitions are already being circulated to gather signatures. That's one reason the legislature is getting antsy. I signed a petition at the Cottonwood medical marijuana dispensary. I don't think you have to be a cardholder just to go into their lobby where the petition is. I think they would welcome your visit so you could sign the petition.


Posted: Sunday, February 16, 2014
Article comment by: Mary Jane

To quote the late great intellectual conservative, William F. Buckley Jr.

"Even if one takes every reefer madness allegation of the prohibitionists at face value, marijuana prohibition has done far more harm to far more people than marijuana ever could."

Carolyn Short and Bill Montgomery cannot possibly give an unbiased assessment of marijuana laws. They are both so heavily invested in a legal system designed to wreak havoc on the lives of citizens who can least fight back or protect themselves from these wolves, that they have no credibility.

These are same right wingers that cried about communist re-education camps, yet openly promote the same thing for marijuana smokers.

When someone stands before a judge after accepting the re-education class offer from the prosecutor in exchange for dropping the charges, the judges always asks, "Has anyone coerced you into to this plea?" If you answer truthfully and tell them the prosecutor has threatened you with a criminal record and maybe a stint in jail or prison, the deal is off. Yet Mr. Montgomery has made it very clear that, that is exactly what they are doing. Maybe it's best if we just stop this farce called, "The War On Drugs". The corrupting forces that act on Law Enforcement from the demand that we trash the constitution because the 'means justify the ends' (of course the reality is just the opposite) is not worth the costs inflicted on society.

P.S. If we are going to outlaw plants, let's start with goatheads and tumbleweeds.


Posted: Saturday, February 15, 2014
Article comment by: Where Do

I Sign??

Posted: Saturday, February 15, 2014
Article comment by: KJ Kramer

Good to know Carl Nye ... get it on the ballot for the citizens to vote on it .

Posted: Saturday, February 15, 2014
Article comment by: Boss Illuminati

the greatest plant in the universe is almost free, LET FREEDOM RING!!!13

marijuana is California’s #1 crop, yet it’s illegal in the backwards USA

from 0 states to half the country, from low 20% approval to almost 70%, cali runs this planet by 2 decades, time to tie marijuana to the 2014, and 2016 elections

20 years behind us southern states, sad and scary....nobody denies freedoms like the south, nobody...even if marijuana reforms did pass the republiCANTS in charge would deny you all your freedoms, centuries of practice...no matter though, we never planned on getting your backwards brethren from day one, half the country already but not one southern state, lol...

love and freedom forever

AMERICA'S WAR ON DRUGS IS A WAR ON AMERICANS!!!33


Posted: Saturday, February 15, 2014
Article comment by: Legalize Marijuana for Age 21 and older and Tax It!

The tax $$$$$ generated could be split between the state of AZ and the city or county. Cottonwood would be able to build the badly needed new City Hall. Medical marijuana is legal, and sales are only going to go up, generating more tax $$$$. The Cottonwood Marijuana Dispensary was so busy last week that that my friend had to wait over 20 min. in his car, waiting for his turn to go inside the dispensary.

Maybe Jan Brewer could buy back our state capital building, too, since she sold it!

Legalize it and the economy will boom.


Posted: Friday, February 14, 2014
Article comment by: Carl Nye

The rush to get marijuana penalty-reducing bills introduced and passed by the legislature has a covert purpose. If a citizen-initiated law gets passed, the legislature is powerless to change or repeal it. However, if the legislature passes their own bill, they can just repeal it next year. Ha Ha, tricked you.



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