On Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill that would end mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes in the State of California.
Introduced by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), Senate Bill 73 gives judges more discretion to order probation and other alternatives to incarceration for certain drug offenses.
Existing law forces judges to apply harsh mandatory minimum sentences and prohibits them from granting probation or suspending a sentence for people convicted of certain drug offenses if the individual has previously been convicted of any one of an expansive list of drug felonies or if they are caught possessing over a certain amount of some substances.
“Mass incarceration of non-violent drug offenders hasn’t reduced drug use or addiction. Time for a new approach,” said Senator Scott Wiener.
He argued that mass incarceration has been devastating to the California budget and California families. Mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses force judges to lock up individuals who would be better off remaining in their communities, where they could access treatment if necessary, as well as other services.
There is an expanding, bipartisan consensus that mandatory minimum sentences are not cost-effective in combating drug use, sales, or crime. Evidence shows that mandatory sentences for drug offenses do not improve public safety, but instead exacerbate existing racial disparities in our criminal legal system and disproportionately impact those suffering from substance use disorders, mental illness, and homelessness. This bill is an important step forward in reversing outdated reliance on ineffective and harmful mandatory minimum sentencing policies.
According to the Bill:
It’s Official: Governor Newsom Signs SB 73, Repealing Drug War-Era Law that Established Mandatory Minimum Sentences
Judges Will Now Have Discretion to Order Probation and Community Based Services Rather than Jail Time for Some Drug Sale Charges
Sacramento, CA—October 6, 2021— Last night, Governor Newsom signed SB 73—legislation to end mandatory jail sentences for certain drug sale offenses—into law, amending incarceration mandates established in the 1980’s during the escalation of the “war on drugs.” The bill does not change the upper penalties but allows judges the discretion to order probation and community-based services, rather than jail time.
Mandatory minimum sentencing requirements have denied judges the discretion to sentence people convicted of drug charges to probation or other alternatives. As a result, many people are sent to jail or prison even if a judge feels the person and their community would be better served through other means. Additionally, if a person with a prior drug offense was convicted of a second offense for something such as drug possession for personal use, a judge was given even less discretion and was not allowed to sentence them to probation. And it even prevented judges from sentencing people with certain first-time drug charges to probation.
The bill is authored by Senator Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Assembly Member Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles) and supported by a wide coalition of state and national organizations including the Drug Policy Alliance, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, California Public Defenders Association, as well as drug treatment professionals.
“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,” said Senator Wiener. “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. War on Drugs policies are ineffective, inhumane and expensive. SB 73 ends mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, and gives judges more options to allow people to stay out of jail. It’s an important measure that will help end California’s system of mass incarceration.”
“We are grateful to Senator Wiener and Assembly Member Carrillo for leading the fight to remove this antiquated and cruel policy that has allowed the drug war to tie judges’ hands for far too long,” said Jeannette Zanipatin, State Director of Drug Policy Alliance. “Forcing judges to send people to jail when they honestly believe that they and their communities would be better served with probation or other community services is incredibly counterproductive and fiscally irresponsible. We are thankful the legislature and Governor Newsom have realized this, and are taking these important steps to set things right in California.”
“Mandatory drug sentences have been an expensive failure. They’ve separated families unnecessarily without making our communities any safer. Good riddance,” said Kevin Ring, President of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM).
About the Drug Policy Alliance
The Drug Policy Alliance envisions a just society in which the use and regulation of drugs are grounded in science, compassion, health, and human rights, in which people are no longer punished for what they put into their own bodies, and in which the fears, prejudices and punitive prohibitions of today are no more. Our mission is to advance those policies and attitudes that best reduce the harms of both drug use and drug prohibition, and to promote the autonomy of individuals over their minds and bodies. Learn more at drugpolicy.org.