Senate Bill 1506, currently being proposed in California, revises the penalty for simple possession of drugs. This bill stops the waste in lives and dollars for the over-incarceration of drug offenses.
Why is this bill so smart?
California can no longer afford to continue locking up thousands of people each year and branding them "felon" for life simply for possessing a small amount of illicit drugs for personal use.
Existing law provides that the unlawful possession of certain controlled substances, including, among others, cocaine, heroin, and those classified in Schedule III, IV, or V as a narcotic drug, is a felony punishable in a county jail for 16 months, or 2 or 3 years.
The unlawful possession of certain other controlled substances, including, among others, concentrated cannabis, and those classified in Schedule III, IV, or V as nonnarcotic drugs, is punishable as a misdemeanor by imprisonment for not more than one year in a county jail, a fine, or by both imprisonment and fine, or as a felony by imprisonment in a county jail for 16 months, or 2 or 3 years.
This bill increases fines for persons convicted of misdemeanor offenses to $500 for first offense up to $1,500 for second and subsequent offenses. Existing law states fees cannot exceed $150. In addition, the legislation excludes certain misdemeanor convictions from the registration requirement when an individual moves to a city or county. The bill would raise the fee to $250 for a first offense and to $500 for a second or subsequent offense if the person is granted probation and accepts the terms of probation.
Probation provisions will be expanded to continuous electronic monitoring if conditions in the jail necessitate releasing sentenced misdemeanor inmates. The bill would authorize the correctional administrator to condition the release on any reasonable conditions related to to the offense and to impose sanctions ofr a violation of the conditions of release.
The United States incarcerates more people for drug offenses than any other country in the world. As of 2009, the incarceration rate was 743 per 100,000 of national population (0.743%). In comparison, Russia has the second highest 577 per 100,000, Canada is 123rd in the world with 117 per 100,000, and China has 120 per 100,000. While Americans only represent about 5 percent of the world's population, one-quarter of the entire world's inmates are incarcerated in the United States.
Drug penalty reform like SB 1506 is one of the answers, but it’s not the solution to addressing drug addiction. Reform must include education strategies and a rehabilitation component. The Center for American Progress believes even though overall drug use is down, and the U.S. prison populations declined for the first time in 40 years, more than 7 million people remain under the supervision of the criminal justice system. Of these, more than 2 million are behind bars. Making matters worse, drug-induced deaths now claim more lives than gun violence, and prescription drug abuse has been declared an epidemic. Will current reforms really break the vicious cycle of drug use, crime, incarceration, and re-arrest in America?
Drug policy reform needs to be part of both the Democratic and Republican platforms and be included in the presidential debates.