Drug Sentencing Reform Bill Approved by California Assembly

mark leno

State Senator Mark Leno

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!

Last Wednesday, 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 drugs for 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.

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli

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
ACLU Southern California

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli is Senior Criminal Justice and Drug Policy Advocate, ACLU of California

About Margaret Dooley-Sammuli

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli is Senior Criminal Justice and Drug Policy Advocate, ACLU of California. Before joining the ACLU, she was the deputy state director in Southern California with the Drug Policy Alliance, where she led the organization’s statewide criminal justice advocacy. In 2008, she was deputy campaign manager for Yes on Prop 5, a ballot initiative that would have significantly expanded access to drug treatment while safely reducing prison overcrowding. Before joining DPA, she spent five years in China where she was an editor with the Economist Intelligence Unit. She holds a degree from Bryn Mawr College.