SACRAMENTO – Gov. Jerry Brown today vetoed a bill that would have modestly reformed California’s drug sentencing laws for simple possession, significantly reduced incarceration costs for counties and helped the state end its ongoing incarceration crisis.
S.B. 649, the Local Control in Sentencing Act, authored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), would have given prosecutors the flexibility to charge low level drug possession for personal use as a misdemeanor instead of a felony and would have allowed judges to deem a low level drug possession offense to be either a misdemeanor or a felony after consideration of the offense and the defendant’s record. The law, which would not have applied to anyone involved in selling, manufacturing or possessing drugs for sale, would have given counties the flexibility to alleviate safely jail overcrowding, ease pressure on California’s court system and could have resulted in as much as $160 million in annual savings for the state and local governments. In recent polling commissioned by the ACLU, 62 percent of California voters said low level possession of drugs for personal use should be charged as a misdemeanor rather than a felony.
“By vetoing S.B. 649, Gov. Brown has thwarted the will of the voters and their elected representatives by rejecting a modest reform that would have helped end mass incarceration in this state,” said Kim Horiuchi, criminal justice and drug policy attorney for the ACLU of California. “California voters and the legislature recognize the urgent need to re-evaluate our sentencing laws and enact smart reforms, especially for low-level, non-violent drug crimes. Doing so will allow California to reduce its reliance on incarceration and free up limited resources for the sorts of community-based treatment, education and job training programs proven to reduce crime and create safe and healthy communities. Despite this, Gov. Brown remains inexplicably opposed to meaningful sentencing reform.”
Contact: Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California, (415) 621-2493