It's Time to Reform Penalties for Simple Drug Possession

Mar 20, 2012
ACLU of Northern California

Page Media

ACLU of Northern CA

Sen. Mark Leno has introduced new legislation, sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union of California and a number of other organizations, that reforms California's drug sentencing laws for simple possession.

The bill, SB 649, allows counties to significantly reduce incarceration costs by giving prosecutors the flexibility to charge low-level drug possession for personal use as a misdemeanor instead of a felony. The bill also gives judges discretion to deem a low-level drug possession offense to be either a misdemeanor or felony after consideration of the offense and the defendant's record. SB 649, which does not apply to anyone involved in selling, manufacturing or possessing drugs for sale, will give counties the flexibility to safely alleviate overcrowding in county jails, ease pressure on California's court system and result in millions of dollars in annual savings for local governments.

SB 649 will allow counties to reduce jail spending and dedicate resources to probation, drug treatment and mental health services that have proven most effective in reducing crime. It will also help law enforcement rededicate resources to more serious offenders. The Legislative Analyst's Office estimates reducing penalties for drug possession could save counties about $159 million annually.

Along with the ACLU, the bill is sponsored by Drug Policy Alliance, the California NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), the California Public Defenders Association, the William C. Velasquez Institute, Californians for Safety and Justice and the Friends Committee on Legislation.

Across the country, 13 states, the District of Columbia and the federal government treat drug possession as a misdemeanor. Drug crime is not higher in those states. A statewide poll of Californians conducted by Tulchin Research late last year showed that an overwhelming majority of Californians support this type of drug sentencing reform, with 75 percent of state voters favoring investment in prevention and alternatives to jail for non-violent offenders. In addition, 62 percent of Californians agree that the penalty for possessing a small amount of illegal drugs for personal use should be reduced to a misdemeanor.

Learn more:

SB 649 Bill Language

SB 649 Fact Sheet (pdf)

SB 649 Support Letter Template (doc)

POLL: 70% Support For Revising CA's Drug Laws (pdf)

Fact Sheet: Crime Rates Not Affected by Drug Penalties (pdf)

Fact Sheet: Treatment Rates Higher, Incarceration Rates Lower in Misdemeanor States (pdf)

Fact Sheet: Harsh Drug Penalties Not Deterrent to Drug Use (pdf)

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