California Reduces Drug Possession to Misdemeanor With Prop 47

By McCarton Ackerman 11/05/14

Voters overwhelmingly supported what could be the first significant blow to the failed war on drugs.

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Californians overwhelmingly passed Proposition 47 this week, which will reduce simple drug possession to a misdemeanor and potentially keep tens of thousands of people out of prison.

The proposition will go into effect immediately after statewide ballot returns show that it was passed with 59% of the vote. Otherwise known as the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, the new measure will save the state roughly $200 million in prison costs each year and allow it to comply with court orders to reduce its prison population. That money will go towards programs involving drug addiction and mental health treatment, supporting crime victims and keeping kids in school.

An estimated 40,000 felonies per year will now be downgraded to misdemeanors. "By passing Proposition 47, California voters show that they understand that the policies of the past have failed and that we cannot incarcerate our way to safety," said Lenore Anderson, chair of the initiative ballot committee. "Californians do not want to waste any more costly prison space on nonviolent, non-serious offenses."

Current inmates will also be affected by the new proposition. Anyone currently serving time for drug possession will have the option to ask for resentencing, which could affect approximately 10,000 inmates. Many people currently behind bars in county jail would be able to be released immediately. Those with more serious criminal convictions, such as murder and violent sex crimes, will not be able to apply for this.

However, most of California’s law enforcement community is opposed to the new measure because they believe a misdemeanor isn’t a significant enough punishment. The California GOP also 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.

The state has been attempting to right the wrongs of the war on drugs in several different ways. California passed the Fair Sentencing Act last 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.