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California Governor Vetoes Bill To Reduce The Penalty For Simple Drug Possession

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california governor jerry brown marijuanaLaw Would Have Helped Curb Prison and Jail Overcrowding in California

California Remains One of Worst in Country with Harsh Drug Sentencing Standards

SACRAMENTO, CA — Today, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed SB649, which aimed to give judges and District Attorneys the discretion to charge possession of small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use as a felony or a misdemeanor as the case warrants. The bill, authored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and supported in the Legislature by some Republicans, as well as most Democrats would have helped reduce prison and jail overcrowding in California and provided savings to the financially-strapped courts because felony charges require setting a preliminary hearing, whereas misdemeanor offenses do not.

“The Governor let down the people of California, the majority of whom support going even farther than this bill would have gone,” said Lynne Lyman, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, one of the bill sponsors. “The vast majority of voters agree with the experts–locking up drug users is stupid, unproductive, cruel and expensive.” Leno’s bill provided a safe and logical opportunity to reduce the number of people incarcerated for simple drug possession.

Despite Realignment, as of December 31, 2012 there were 4,144 people in state prison for drug possession for personal use. The cost to incarcerate that many people in State Prison for a year is over $207 million. Current law provides for up to three years of prison, even for a small amount of drugs for personal use. The bill did not change the upper penalty, but would allow prosecutors or judges to punish drug use as a misdemeanor with up to a year in jail, or divert drug users to treatment or community programs to reduce recidivism.

“Our system is broken,” said Lyman. “Felony sentences don’t reduce drug use and don’t persuade users to seek treatment, but instead, impose tremendous barriers to housing, education and employment after release – three things we know help keep people out of our criminal justice system and successfully reintegrating into their families and communities.”

Two months after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the nation’s plan to scale back federal prison sentences for low-level drug crimes, California is still struggling for consensus on how to comply with a federal mandate to reduce prison overcrowding. SB649 would have brought California closer to the standard of 13 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government, which already treat drug possession as a misdemeanor. Drug crime is not higher in those states. Furthermore, a statewide poll conducted by Tulchin Research in 2012 showed that an overwhelming majority of Californians support this type of drug sentencing reform, with 75 percent of Californians 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.

According to state data, there are 10,000 convictions for possession of heroin and cocaine for personal use each year in California. The majority of these 10,000 sentences are to felony probation. How this number would have changed if SB 649 had been implemented remains unknown because the bill grants total discretion in charging decisions to the local prosecutor.  But experts believe that approximately 15-30% of cases statewide would likely have been charged as misdemeanors, resulting in hundreds of millions in savings to state and local governments, including the courts. Anticipated savings would have provided greater flexibility to local governments to invest in drug treatment and mental health services, or to focus law enforcement resources on more serious offenders.

Leno’s bill, which does not apply to anyone involved in selling, manufacturing or possessing drugs for sale. The bill is co-sponsored by the ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance, CA-NAACP, California Public Defenders Association, National Council for La Raza, William C. Velasquez Institute, Californians for Safety and Justice, and Friends Committee on Legislation.

Source: Drug Policy Alliancemake a donation

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8 Comments

  1. Public pensioners are being asked to take the hit for the banks and Wall Street.
    It’s a shameful travesty is what it is.
    What else but conflicts of interest would cause Brown not to sign this teeny-weeny-important bill?
    Nothing, that’s what.

  2. Jerry Brown is too old to be in public office. He forgets things; he gets disoriented; he can hardly walk without people on both his arms holding him up and steering his body.
    Jerry has forgotten what liberalism is all about. He is disoriented when he says that obliging state workers to surrender a portion of their retirement earnings into a private investment account (read: gamble on the stock market) is his “reform” of the State’s pension system. He is too feeble to support his own body weight, and he has become a dead weight on the Pat Brown/Earl Warren legacy to the people of California.
    This current betrayal, of Jerry vetoing Mark Leno’s bill to give judges and prosecutors discretion in charging and sentencing possession of small amounts of illicit drugs (SB649), is another example of tired,old Jerry living without sense or purpose, like an actor refusing to leave the stage even after his lights have gone out.

  3. Sacremento time ain’t no joke either. Jerry Brown just got welcomed with opened arms into the “John McCain,” like group. Die hard conservatives devoted to personal gain. It’s another social program shut down in whats supposed to be liberal west coast. It would have given those with track marks and needles in their ass felons, and a dude who freaked out from taking something once misdemeanors. Once your a felon your rights are nothing.

  4. Time for Jerry Brown to swim off into the sunset. $207,000,000 to keep 4000 prisoners in jail. That doesn’t include the cost for police and court time to put them in prison. That’s criminal.

  5. I understand the Governers position on drug offenses, however cannabis should be exempt from this law especially if the quanity is small or for personnel use.

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