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April 12, 2011

New poll shows Californians want to lower punishments for drug users

As detailed in this new Los Angeles Times article, which is headlined "Most California voters say possessing small amount of illegal drugs should be misdemeanor, not felony," a new poll shows that most Californians do not want drug users to be subject to serious criminal sanctions. Here are the details:

A strong majority of California voters believe the penalty for possession of a small amount of an illegal drug for personal use should be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor, according to a poll released Monday by organizations seeking to relax drug laws.

The survey conducted by a professional polling firm found that almost 75% of California voters likely to cast ballots in 2012 believe the crime should be downgraded to a misdemeanor. And 40% went even further, saying they think it should be dropped to an infraction, which is the equivalent of a speeding ticket and carries no prison time.

The poll did not define what is considered a small amount of a drug. Possession of controlled substances, such as cocaine and heroin, is a felony, although charges are sometimes reduced. Marijuana is treated separately, and possession of an ounce or less is an infraction.

A majority of voters also said California sends too many people to prison. And almost 75% agreed that in the midst of a budget crisis, the state should instead use the millions of dollars spent to imprison drug users on schools, healthcare and law enforcement.

"The point here is that this is an overwhelming majority of California voters," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, the deputy state director for Southern California for the Drug Policy Alliance, a national organization that supports efforts to reduce drug sentences. "Californians don't want to waste money on incarcerating people for drug possession. They'd rather see that money go for something else."

The poll was released by the Drug Policy Alliance along with the ACLU of Northern California in San Francisco and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland. It was designed and administered by Lake Research Partners, a Democratic polling firm....

Nearly a quarter of the voters surveyed said Californians caught with a small amount of an illegal drug for personal use should not spend any time behind bars, while 27% said they should be locked up for less than three months. Just 8% suggested incarceration for a year or more.

The full report from the poll conducted by Lake Research Partners on the drug penalties in California can be accessed at this link.  And Drug Policy Alliance has this press release about the poll.

April 12, 2011 at 07:48 AM | Permalink

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"The poll was released by the Drug Policy Alliance along with the ACLU of Northern California in San Francisco and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland. It was designed and administered by Lake Research Partners, a Democratic polling firm...."

Now THERE are a bunch of disinterested people. I wonder why we had to read through the first five paragraphs to get to this one, which is by far the most revealing.

The story is reminiscent of one that came up about a week after Prop 19. The druggies had pinned much hope on that one; it was going to be their legalization poster boy. But voters saw it differently, and Prop 19 went down in flames. Dissatisfied with the actual election results (which otherwise were amazingly favorable to liberals and liberal causes), some very rich druggie commissioned his own poll, with of course its own wording, and got the results he failed to get a few days before when people actually voted!

This is the same deal, nothing more or less. Sophisticated pollsters like these know like the back of their hand how to write the question to get the desired answer. That and nothing more than that is this poll "proves."

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 12, 2011 10:03:17 AM

Californians already have what they want. First time drug offenders get deferred entry of judgment (DEJ) for simple possession of any drug. That means a class and a dismissal. The next time around, under Prop 36, eligible offenders (ones without strikes, sex offenses) CANNOT be sent to jail for a nonviolent drug possession offense. Even if that person violates the drug treatment that is required, no jail or prison can be imposed until the fourth separate violation. Each new non violent drug possession offense is eligible for this program.

There are, of course, nuances to PC 1000 (DEJ) and Prop 36, but the general rule is no jail. When Prop 36 passed everyone thought that would save money by diverting incarceration costs into treatment, it may have. But now the mandatory funding part of the law has expired. We will see if the Legislature finds that drug treatment money given our $25 billion hole.

Posted by: David | Apr 12, 2011 10:24:58 AM

As the article notes, have to take a look at the more complex and dysfunctional picture of California incarceration, which no doubt seriously informs people's opinions on present classification/sentencing for drug offenses. While schools are being shut down, we have a prison system absolutely bursting at its seams, and..still getting bigger. And a very bloated, over-paid and dysfunctional prison system at that. Part of the problem is residual, as Sara at Prison Law Blog notes in her post today: A life sentence for 1.2 grams of crack?

"..There is a generation or more of Californians — those who were of crime-committing-age between 1980 and 2000 — who racked up criminal records and prison stints on the basis of draconian drug sentencing practices that California voters have since rejected. A lot of those men and women are still in the system or still being hurt by the system, whether because prison ruined their life, or because they got into further trouble once labeled a criminal, or because they got out of prison and finding few resources to help them went back to using drugs, or whatever reason. Or because like Fryman, they are literally still in prison because they were caught up both in the drug war and the Three Strikes Law. And the same story could be told about New York and the Rockefeller drug laws, and many other states, and certainly about the federal system. Sentencing reform for the future is an important first step, but the roots of mass incarceration can’t be pulled out so neatly — ultimately some form of retrospective justice will also be needed, I think."

Posted by: anon | Apr 13, 2011 1:42:41 PM

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