California spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year on felony drug possession convictions. Currently, possessing certain drugs for personal use is an automatic felony – no matter the amount or the circumstances.
Needlessly locking people up for low-level drug possession exacerbates prison overcrowding and wastes hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
Felonies are punishable by up to three years behind bars and result in a number of lifetime barriers – including to housing and employment – that work against the successful reentry and rehabilitation of people with drug problems. This overly harsh penalty for drug possession contributes to recidivism, overcrowds prisons and jails and wastes resources that could be invested in proven crime prevention programs, including drug treatment.
But California is on the verge of righting this wrong. Senator Mark Leno (D-san Francisco) has introduced a bill (SB 649) that would give prosecutors the option to charge a defendant with a misdemeanor rather than an automatic felony. SB 649 has already survived several hurdles and is now just one step away from the Governor’s desk!
If passed, SB 649 will provide counties with an additional tool to help alleviate overcrowding in our local jails, ease pressure on California’s court system and save millions of dollars needlessly spent on the incarceration of low-level offenders, better spent on rehabilitating drug users and addressing more serious crimes.