California’s Drug Sentence Reform Bill is a Step in the Right Direction

The California State Assembly room

Non-violent offenders in California who have been arrested for low-level drug offenses will no longer be subjected to unfair jail sentences thanks to the Assembly’s passage of SB 649. The new law, which passed yesterday, will give prosecutors greater discretion in how they charge these low-level offenders.

Together with our California Affiliates, and partners such as Californians for Safety and Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Drug Policy Alliance, we have been working actively on passage of the bill. 

We welcome the California Assembly’s move. A one-size-fits-all punishment for drug-related offenses simply does not work, does nothing to help mitigate the state’s fiscal situation, and is disproportionately doled out to Latino men.

“Our number one priority should be keeping our communities safe,” said Danny Montes, NCLR Organizer and Capacity-Building Strategist in a statement, “but our current sentencing policies for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders are ineffective and unfair. Besides saddling California taxpayers with the huge cost of overcrowded jails, the current law ensnares people who pose no danger to society instead of working toward educating and rehabilitating them.”

More specifics on SB 649 from the statement:

SB 649 would give prosecutors the authority to adjust a charge for possession of small quantities of drugs from an automatic felony to a misdemeanor/felony based on the merits of the case. There are about 4,000 people in California state prison for possession of small amounts of drugs and thousands more that cycle through county jails. Many of those serving jail time for these crimes are Latinos and Blacks, who are disproportionately charged with low-level drug offenses. Passage of SB 649 would help reduce overcrowding in California prisons and save the state approximately $160 million per year.

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