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California Senate passes new drug sentencing reforms

The Senate today passed legislation authored by Sen. Mark Leno that reforms California’s drug sentencing laws for simple possession. SB 649 allows counties to significantly reduce incarceration costs by giving prosecutors the flexibility to charge low-level, non-violent drug offenses as misdemeanors instead of felonies. The bill also gives judges discretion to deem a non-violent drug possession offense to be either a misdemeanor or felony (known as a wobbler) after consideration of the offense and the defendant’s record. SB 649, the Local Control in Sentencing Act, does not apply to anyone involved in selling, manufacturing or possessing drugs for sale, and will result in millions of dollars in annual savings for local governments, help alleviate overcrowding in county jails, ease pressure on California’s court system and keep communities safer.
“One of the best ways to promote lower crime rates is to provide low-level offenders with the rehabilitation they need to successfully reenter their communities,” said Sen. Leno, D-San Francisco. “However, our current laws do just the opposite. We give non-violent drug offenders long terms, offer them no treatment while they’re incarcerated, and then release them back into the community with few job prospects or opportunities to receive an education. SB 649 gives local governments the flexibility to choose reduced penalties so that they can reinvest in proven alternatives that benefit minor offenders and reserve limited jail space for serious criminals.”
SB 649 will significantly reduce jail spending and allow local governments to dedicate resources to probation, drug treatment and mental health services that have proven most effective in reducing crime. It will also help law enforcement rededicate resources to more serious offenders. The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates reducing penalties for drug possession will save counties about $159 million annually.

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