Hey, you dope-smoking hipster wannabe anarchists, I’ve got some good news for you.
Starting this year in California, when you get caught smoking an ounce or less of Mary Jane, the penalty is a mere ticket. It’s an expensive ticket at $100, but still: no court appearances, no arrest, and nothing on your record.
Undoubtedly, those of you who keep up to date on drug laws were already aware of that little gleam of sunshine, but 2011 has ushered in additional new laws as well.
• Gun owners: On the other side of the political spectrum, gun owners who want to buy ammo will now have to be fingerprinted, meaning that all ammo purchases must be face to face; mail-order ammo is out. People can still buy ammunition out of state—Las Vegas, anyone?—without giving up a fingerprint.
• Everybody: Some laws come in quietly and change everything. Starting this year, political primaries will be open, meaning the two top vote getters for California political positions will go to the November elections.
“This is going to be a radical change,” said Allan Hoffenblum, a longtime political consultant and the publisher of the California Target Book, a non-partisan, multi-volume subscription service that tracks and analyzes political races in California. “In a lot of districts, there will be Democrats running against Democrats and Republicans running against Republicans in the general elections.”
According to Hoffenblum, general elections will be more significant, and independents and those who belong to a non-majority party in a district will have more influence than they do now. Along with non-partisan redistricting coming in 2012, the political landscape will likely look very different from its current shape.
• Negligent parents: Moms and dads can now get in big trouble if their kids miss too much school. If Junior plays hooky too often, his parents can wind up in the clink for as long as a year and pay up to $2,000 in fines.
• Identity thieves and E-stalkers: Impersonate someone on Facebook or through phone calls or text, and you could wind up with $1,000 in fines and a year in jail.
• Motorcycle riding hoodlums: Anyone younger than 21 who wants to learn to drive a motorcycle will have to take a safety class before getting an instruction permit.
• Police officers: Staring this year, the Amber Alert system can be used when a cop is attacked and the perp escapes.
• Donors: Employers with 15 or more employees must provide a 30-workday leave of absence for workers donating an organ and up to five workdays for a bone marrow transplant. Clearly, this is the year to get rid of that spare kidney.
• People who like doughnuts that taste good: Trans fats will be eliminated from doughnut shops and bakeries. Restaurants, in case you were wondering, have been deprived of their yummy but heart-clogging trans fats since the beginning of 2010.
• The elderly: Nursing homes will be required to post ratings—up to five stars—from the Federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
• Pain-in-the-ass Prius drivers: Starting in July, a new state law strips hybrid vehicle owners of the right to use the carpool lane when they’re not carpooling. Owners of electric, natural gas, and plug-in hybrids will now be able to use the carpool lane and thumb their nose at those polluting Priuses as they drive on by.
• People who don’t like to throw money at Pacific Gas and Electric: New housing subdivisions will have to offer homebuyers the option of buying a solar-energy system along with their new McMansions.
• Human traffickers: Courts will now be able to seize property used in human trafficking, and, if that’s not enough, traffickers can face civil penalties up to $25,000.
• Landlords: People who own rental properties won’t be able to evict tenants who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
• Paparazzi: Celebrity picture snatchers who get caught driving recklessly while chasing really good-looking celebrities can now get an additional misdemeanor charge added to whatever rap they’re looking at, which is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $2,500 fine.
• Foster kids: Foster children are now eligible for state services until they’re 21, instead of 18.
Staff Writer Robert A. McDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.