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.
- Celebrating Fourth of July is much cooler in these AZ towns
- Top ten road trip bathrooms in America
- Six things causing a pain in your neck
- 5 things to make your summer move easier
- Three elements of a strong timeshare exit guarantee
- Stretches and exercises for carpal tunnel syndrome
- The best Major League ballparks have their own personality
- Comparing the best regular seasons: The '96 Bulls and '16 Warriors
- 3 Arizona road trips and the vehicles to get you there
- Colon cancer is preventable. Check these signs and symptoms to stay healthy.
- 6 of the biggest skin cancer myths
- Affordable small home makeover ideas
- Locals helping locals: 6 success stories you need to know about
- Sunscreen facts that could save your life
- 6 energy saving hacks for your home
- 5 tips for choosing a company to end your timeshare
- Overlooked water tips to save you money
- 5 of the most adored gentlemen in professional sports today
- The real danger of sitting at your desk
- Most surprising NBA playoff performances of the last 40 years
- 11 classic baseball movies you must see again
- Finally getting rid of fat: 3 methods that actually work
- 4 reasons cancer survivors should focus on food
- 5 spring cleaning spots everyone forgets
- 5 reasons to look forward to watching the D-backs this season
- Common virus attributed to spike in head and neck cancers
- 5 signs it’s time to end your timeshare ownership
- 3 most overlooked ways to keep your home healthy
- 6 ways the air in your home could be making you sick
- CrossFit dangers: 5 common injuries and how to deal with them