Sacramento is at this very moment considering spending another one billion taxpayer dollars on prisons. That’s crazy! We’ve given our elected officials a better option: pass modest drug sentencing reform that would actually safely reduce incarceration costs.
Well, guess what?! They’ve done it!
Today, the California State Assembly passed SB 649, a bill authored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) which gives local prosecutors the flexibility to charge low-level, non-violent drug possession as a misdemeanor instead of an automatic felony. SB 649 also gives judges discretion to deem a drug possession offense to be either a misdemeanor or felony after consideration of the offense and a defendant’s record.
SB 649 does not apply to anyone involved in selling, manufacturing or possessing drugsfor sale. The bill returns to the Senate for a concurrence vote before heading to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.
If signed by the governor, SB 649 will allow counties to significantly reduce jail spending and direct resources to efforts proven to reduce crime – including probation, drug treatment and mental health services. The bill will also help law enforcement rededicate resources to more serious offenders. The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates reducing penalties for drug possession would save counties as much as $160 million annually.
Along with the ACLU of California, the bill is co-sponsored by the National Council of La Raza, California State NAACP, California Public Defenders Association, Californians for Safety and Justice, Drug Policy Alliance, William C. Velásquez Institute, and Friends Committee on Legislation. Right on Crime, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the California Judges Association, the Conference of California State Bar Associations and the California Society of Addiction Medicine also support the bill.
Find out more about the campaign to foster healthy and safe communities in California at www.aclunc.org/drugreform.
Margaret Dooley-Sammuli is Senior Criminal Justice and Drug Policy Advocate, ACLU of California