Five New California Laws You Haven’t Heard About

If there’s one thing California is good at, it’s making up new rules. Here are five laws that took effect Jan. 1 that you probably haven’t heard about yet… but will still have to live with as long as you’re on the Farm.

1. Lower penalties for marijuana possession. As the Los Angeles Times reports, possession of an ounce or less of marijuana will now be considered an “infraction,” not a misdemeanor. What does this mean? Unlucky pot enthusiasts will still have to pay a $100 fine, but the offense will no longer require a criminal trial or become a part of a one’s permanent criminal record. So while Prop. 19 didn’t pass, the state is still taking baby steps on the path to saner drug policy.

2. Harsher penalties for online impersonation. It is now a crime to “knowingly and without consent credibly impersonate another person through or on an Internet Web site or by other electronic means with the intent to harm, intimidate, threaten or defraud another person.” This one is clearly aimed at harassment, fraud, and cyberbullying. But I would still think twice about misusing your roommate’s perpetually-open Facebook account. And I also think that someone ought to tell State Sen. Jose Simitian, who wrote and promoted this bill, that “e-personation” is not a word.

**3. Healthier donuts? **California has now imposed a legal limit- 0.5 grams, if you’re interested- on how much artificial trans fat bakers can use in donuts. Yet another phenomenal example of the nanny state in action, and a clear indication that state legislators either have too much time on their hands or will do literally anything to avoid working on our perpetually out-of-whack budget. On the bright side, I suppose, my trips to Happy Donuts will now be marginally less bad for me.

4. Immunity for underage drinkers who report medical emergencies. Inebriated teens and 20-year-olds who call 911 on behalf their passed-out or ill friends will be immune from prosecution for underage drinking. This law, prompted by the tragic death by alcohol poisoning of a high school senior whose friends feared to call the police, might actually be the most important one on my list. While Stanford has essentially already been following this policy, it’s important to know that there is no longer even the barest excuse not to summon help for someone who needs it.

5. Calorie counts at Chipotle? A law signed in 2008 that requires all restaurant chains with more than 20 establishments to “include calorie counts for each food item on all menus, and on menu boards above the front counter” is finally going into effect. I’m bracing myself for a rude awakening when I’m forced to find out exactly how many days worth of food I’m eating every time I order a steak fajita burrito. But on the whole, I’m happy with this one- it helps consumers make an informed choice but doesn’t dictate that choice to them.

This Los Angeles Times article has details on a few more of the 700+ laws that just went into effect. Check it out if you’re planning to volunteer as a nurse, commit loan fraud, lobby on behalf of public employee unions, provide alcohol to minors, or carry a gun to the BART station. Or if you’d just like to see what exactly our legislators have been up to.

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