Arizona Capitol

Arizona Lawmakers Propose Changing Penalty for Pot Possession From Felony to Simple Fine

Some Democratic lawmakers are proposing that marijuana possession in Arizona should no longer be a felony.

It's not legalization, but it is decriminalization -- 13 Democrats have teamed up to offer a bill that proposes the penalty for possessing less than an ounce of pot be a "civil penalty" of $100 or less.

See also:
-Marijuana Policy Project Plans Arizona Legalization Measure for 2016

Under House Bill 2474, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana would be more like a traffic ticket instead of a felony conviction that goes on someone's record for life.

More than a dozen other states already have similar decriminalization laws, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Under this proposal, possessing between an ounce and two pounds would be a petty offense. Right now, that's a felony punishable by a maximum of two years in prison for a first-time offender.

Possessing more than two pounds, but not possessing it "for sale," would be a mid-level misdemeanor, which comes with up to 30 days in jail.

The bill also would make growing less than two pounds a misdemeanor instead of a felony and would make growing more than two pounds a low-level felony.

Assistant House Minority Leader Ruben Gallego, a Phoenix Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, announced before the legislative session started that he was working on a legalization bill that would "regulate and tax marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol."

Gallego tells New Times that he's still planning on submitting that bill and plans to have it in by the end of the week.

Keep in mind that both chambers of the Legislature have Republican majorities so the passage of either bills certainly wouldn't be easy.

However, two of the three polls done on the topic in the past year show a majority of Arizonans support marijuana legalization. Plus, Arizona voters approved the state's medical-marijuana law in 2010.

Send feedback and tips to the author.
Follow Matthew Hendley on Twitter at @MatthewHendley.