Rally Legislators to Reduce Drug Possession Penalties

mark leno

State Senator Mark Leno

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, Senior Policy Advocate at the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties requests our help getting California Senate Bill 649 passed. Authored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and coauthored by Senators Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) and Hanna Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), the bill reduces the penalties for certain controlled substances:

Existing law provides that the unlawful possession of certain controlled substances, including, among others, opiates, opium, opium derivatives, mescaline, peyote, tetrahydrocannabinols, and cocaine base, is a felony punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for 16 months, or 2 or 3 years.

This bill would make the unlawful possession of any of those substances punishable as either a felony punishable in county jail or as a misdemeanor by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year.

Here, is Dooley-Sammuli’s summary of what’s been happening around SB 649 and her request for your help in three specific ways:

  • Constituent contacts: please ask your constituents/members to contact their Assembly Members THIS WEEK (or as soon as possible) to urge support for SB 649;
  • Organizational contacts: on behalf of your organization, please contact as many Assembly Members/staff as you can (as makes sense for your organization) to demonstrate the wide range of support for this critical bill (AND gather information from them that I ask that you please REPORT BACK to me); and
  • Expert contacts: Let her know if you have any ideas or need any help to get any other experts/people of influence to Sacramento to educate lawmakers on SB 649. One of our coalition partners may be able to help financially/logistically.

What’s been happening:

Our opponents have used this month to “educate” Assembly Members on SB 649. Here’s a taste from DA O’Malley’s recent opposition letter “SB 649 minimizes the consequences of addictive and destructive behavior by lowering the crime to a misdemeanor level.” Her letter then goes on to clarify that the legislation doesn’t mandate that DAs charge a misdemeanor, despite her having said as much.

Fortunately, we also have a support letter from San Francisco Probation Chief Wendy Still. That letter, along with all of our other campaign materials, are online here. We were also able to counter the DA’s misinformation by bringing Judge Harlan Grossman and Judge Jim Stiven to several meetings in Sacramento. Californians for Safety and Justice and the California Society of Addiction Medicine have been reaching out to staff and members around the Capitol. Drug Policy Alliance, National Council of La Raza and ACLU have been working on LA legislators and other powerbrokers.

“And I’m sure there’s more going on than I know of – PLEASE tell me what you’re doing so I can brag about you to the group,” Dooley-Sammuli says.

What we need to do now:

All that work is a very strong start. However, we’ve got a lot more to do! The Assembly will reconvene on Monday (August 5th) and could vote on SB 649 any time. Right now, we need to make sure that Assembly Members and their staff are hearing the truth about SB 649 – before they commit to oppose the legislation based on the DA’s misinformation.

Please reach out to the below targets that make the most sense for you/your organization – and tell the ACLU who you’re reaching out to and what you’re learning! In particular, we need to know if you are learning anything about a lawmaker’s position on or concerns about the bill.

Here are our priority targets, who we think might be on the fence (in order of district #):

  • Marc Levine
  • Jim Frazier
  • Joan Buchanan
  • Nora Campos
  • Luis A. Alejo
  • Das Williams
  • Chris R. Holden
  • Mike Gatto
  • Manuel V. Perez
  • Ian C. Calderon
  • Isadore Hall III
  • Tom Daly

These are people who should be supportive, but we need to confirm (in order of district #):

  • Susan Eggman
  • Tom Ammiano
  • Bill Quirk
  • Bob Wieckowski
  • Raul Bocanegra
  • Roger Hernandez
  • Richard Bloom
  • John A. Perez
  • Holly Mitchell
  • Cristina Garcia
  • Reginald B. Jones-Sawyer, Sr.
  • Jose Medina
  • Steven Bradford
  • Anthony Rendon
  • Bonnie Lowenthal
  • Shirley N. Weber
  • Lorena Gonzalez
Margaret Dooley-Sammuli

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli

In Districts: As a reminder, our goal at the district level is to demonstrate in-district support for SB 649 in any (legal!) way that effectively secures an “aye” vote. You could make this happen by getting just a handful of influential folks to call the lawmaker to urge support. You could also work with community members to generate a higher volume of letters/calls. And, of course, if you think it’s useful, you could set up a meeting with the lawmaker/staff (though this is often the least bang for the buck). We want to keep working on our targets until we get a confirmed “aye” vote from them.

SB 649 Resources: Don’t see something you want? Let Margaret know! (Check out the “SB 649 Meeting Packet Table of Contents” for a recommendation of what to include in your meeting packets.)

Here’s the contact info for Margaret Dooley-Sammuli Phone: 619-398-4486 | Cell: 858-336-3685 | mds@aclusandiego.org