May 20, 2024 9:45 pm

Penalties for Substance Abuse in California

Millions people in California are struggle with drug addiction and/or drug abuse, and millions more are teetering on the edge of a serious drug habit and need as much help as they can possibly get.

Legislators and voters in the state of California recognize the very real and serious threat that drug abuse and drug addiction poses to this great state and all of her citizens, which is why California has recently approved Proposition 47.

Proposition 47 is new legislation that aims to change a variety of lower level nonviolent drug and property offenses from the current status of a felony, bumping them down to much less severe misdemeanors. There are a number of different reasons as to why legislators have decided to initiate Proposition 47 in the first place, and there are a variety of reasons as to why the overwhelming majority of voters supported this change. We are going to break down some of those reasons right now.

The “Three Strikes Law” in California was a major motivator for the changes

California long ago decided to try and get out in front of major issues stemming from repeat crime in their great state, and made a major leap forward in eliminating long time or career criminal enterprises by instituting the “Three Strikes Law”. This law, at least as sold to the voters, essentially gave everyone in California the opportunity to have three strikes against them before they started to get incredibly severe and significant punishments – sometimes including life in prison, even if the three strikes against a particular individual were relatively minor in comparison to the punishment. The reality was that non-violent drug offense were being used to send someone with a criminal record away for 25 to life, according to Sacramento Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Rehm.

And although supporters of the Three Strikes Law argue the law has definitely served California well (repeat crime numbers are down across the board throughout the state ever since this initiative was passed), many in the state were uncomfortable with the harsh punitive measures levied on those convicted of drug offenses that were classified as felonies, and thus used in the Three Strikes Law.

Instead of throwing the book at people charged with possession of most illegal drugs (including cocaine, heroin, and other Schedule I and II substances), these felony charges were dropped down to misdemeanor charges. Other felonies linked to drug habits and drug abuse including shoplifting, grand theft, forgery, fraud, and bad check bouncing have all been dropped down to misdemeanors as well (provided that the crime involves less than $950 in damages).

These changes not only allow the California legal arm to keep millions and millions of people out of prison for significant sentences (including long-term sentences) that probably don’t deserve them, but it also allows the state to save upwards of $700 million each year – all while freeing up a considerable amount of space in public prisons as well.

What kind of changes will this have on the drug abuse/addiction community?

It is impossible to know exactly what kind of impact to keep Proposition 47 changes are going to have on the drug abuse and addiction community, but so far early indications are pretty positive.

More people in the last three years have elected to seek out medical assistance and therapy to help them destroy their addiction, and several thousand inmates from state prisons have already put in a petition for resentencing that allows them to rebuild their lives after they are released from prison.

On top of that, a lot of the money that has been saved (some of the $700 million each year we mentioned above) has been redirected and funneled to help support mental health treatment and substance abuse clinics throughout the state, including educational programs for younger people in the junior high and high school levels.

All of these initiatives should help to better educate individuals at the earliest possible time, giving them the information and the ammunition they need to avoid serious life altering consequences that can result from lengthy incarceration time.

58% of voters were responsible for casting a vote for Proposition 47, and even though and earlier legislative action was shot down and vetoed by Gov. Brown last year that would have made many of the same changes he has already committed to affirming and moving forward with these alterations.

It will still probably be a few years before we know exactly what kind of impact Proposition 47 has on the Californian community, but so far all early indications are rather positive in nature. This gives individuals an opportunity to avoid significant long-term jail sentences for relatively minor crimes, all while improving the support structure that is already in place throughout California to help those battling addiction or drug abuse habits.

Things are definitely looking better today than they were before Proposition 47 was affirmed.