California ends mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Tuesday signed a bill to end mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes.
The bill, SB73, will allow judges to sentence individuals to probation rather than jail time for nonviolent drug offenses, such as possession of a small amount of heroin.
The bill was state legislators’ fourth attempt at such a proposal, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. In 2018 and 2019, previous versions of the proposal fell through at the urging of police groups. It was cut once again last year after the COVID-19 pandemic forced lawmakers to shelve their upcoming agendas.
This version of the bill was put forward by state Sen. Scott Wiener (D), who called for an end to “War on Drugs policies.”
“The racist, failed War on Drugs has helped build our system of mass incarceration, and we must dismantle and end its vestiges, which are still in place today,” Wiener said in a statement, according to the news outlet. “War on Drugs policies are ineffective, inhumane and expensive.”
The bill will take effect in January.
Current state law still requires an individual to spend several years in jail or prison for numerous drug crimes, the Chronicle noted. In addition, people who have a past conviction for a drug felony, such as possession or sale of controlled substances, are ineligible for probation.
Critics have said that this approach is still too harsh, arguing that the tens of thousands of people convicted for the crimes could be better supervised by the community, the news outlet wrote. This way, they can be closer to their families to receive addiction treatment.
“Our prisons and jails are filled with people — particularly from communities of color — who have committed low-level, nonviolent drug offenses and who would be much better served by non-carceral options like probation, rehabilitation and treatment,” Wiener said, according to The Associated Press. “It’s an important measure that will help end California’s system of mass incarceration.”
However, the California Police Chiefs Association said the bill “sets a dangerous precedent … and would jeopardize the health and safety of the communities we are sworn to protect,” the AP noted.