Brief: California Initiative to Defelonize Drug Possession Appears Poised for Victory

With so many eyes on the marijuana legalization bills in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington D.C. this voting season, it could be easy to overlook an important political battle that’s gathering steam in California.

California’s Proposition 47, a.k.a. the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, is an initiative that — in order to fight the state’s high incarceration rates — would turn all drug possession felonies and several other low-level, nonviolent crimes into misdemeanors. The bill is sponsored by former San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne and current San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon; the political campaign is being led by Californians for Safe Neighborhoods and Schools.

A poll from the Public Policy Institute of California shows that support for Prop 47 is at 62%, while only 25% of the population is strictly opposed.

About 10,000 people in California are arrested for drug possession felonies each year. A successful Prop 47 would be a monumental step forward for lowering the state’s incarceration rates — inmates already serving time for the crimes in question would be given the right to petition for resentencing in county jails.

If it passes, 65% of savings from Prop 47 would be invested in mental health and drug treatment, 25% would go to school programs for at-risk youth, and the final 10% would go to trauma recovery services for crime victims.

“When three out of four people go back to prison within three years — and it’s been that way for 30 years — it’s obvious that we need a new plan,” said Dionne Wilson of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice. “This measure will save a ton of money that would be wasted on incarcerating nonviolent people for nonviolent crimes, which will then be reinvested into trauma care for victims, mental health services, and drug treatment. I think that’s what a sound public safety strategy looks like.”


Photo Credit: Rennett Stowe

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