California Proposition Could Reduce Non-Violent Drug Felonies To Misdemeanors

By McCarton Ackerman 10/10/14

If approved, Proposition 47 could cause a tidal wave of reform that would see the release of tens of thousands while saving hundreds of millions per year.

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California voters could soon take a stand against cops and prosecutors within the state by passing a referendum that would not only downgrade drug possession felonies to misdemeanors, but also reinvest prison money in drug treatment.

If Proposition 47 is approved, an estimated 40,000 felonies per year would be downgraded to misdemeanors, up to 10,000 state prisoners could be eligible to have their sentences retroactively reduced, and many people currently behind bars in county jails might be released immediately.

"We know the system is broken. We've known it for 30 years," said Dionne Wilson, a cop’s widow who has become the face of the campaign. "The people of California have the opportunity now to say we've had enough, we need a new way forward."

Because it costs $62,000 per year to house an inmate, the state could potentially save hundreds of millions of dollars per year. Proposition 47 suggests that 65% of the money saved would go towards mental health addiction treatment, while the remaining 35% would be allotted for reducing school truancy and victims' services.

Although the California GOP has formally rejected the measure, it was supported by half of Republican voters and 62% of all voters in a recent poll from the Public Policy Institute of California. Conservative voters who support the measure believe that reducing non-violent drug felonies to misdemeanors will ultimately make it easier to obtain employment and will reduce recidivism throughout the state.

It’s the latest attempt to right some of the wrongs of unfair drug policies that have plagued the state for decades. California passed the Fair Sentencing Act earlier this month, which ensures that anyone convicted of most offenses involving crack cocaine will not receive harsher punishments than those convicted of the same crimes involving the powder form of the drug.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.