Seventy percent of California voters want lighter penalties for personal drug use, according to new polling data from San Francisco-based polling firm Tulchin Research.
The poll was commissioned by proponents of California state Sen. Mark Leno's new bill, SB 1506, which would reduce the penalty for personal drug possession under state law from a felony to a misdemeanor, punishable by no more than one year behind bars, in addition to fines and probation.
Possession of an ounce or less of marijuana was reclassified in 2010 from a misdemeanor to an infraction under then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, but personal use of other drugs such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines can still mean up to three years behind bars.
On a press call Wednesday, Leno touted the cost-saving measures of the bill, which would save the state an estimated $64.4 million annually, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. Yet he emphasized that the fiscal benefits are secondary and called on Californians to follow the lead of 13 other states that already classify drug possession for personal use as a misdemeanor.
"Our motivation is first and foremost to have safer communities," he told reporters, according to KPCC.
The bill would result in an estimated 2,000 fewer inmates across the state and, proponents argue, would make the criminal justice system fairer for minorities disproportionately targeted by law enforcement.
Opponents argue such a switch would send more offenders to increasingly overcrowded local jails.
A second bill in the state Assembly would make it easier for former prisoners charged with drug possession to get their criminal records expunged.
SB 1506 is co-sponsored by the ACLU of California, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, California NAACP and Drug Policy Alliance, among other organizations.