Key CA Committee OK’s Measure to End ‘War on Drugs’ Era Law Now Requiring Mandatory Prison, Jail for Nonviolent Drug Offenses

SACRAMENTO, CA – Mandatory prison and jail sentences for nonviolent drug offenses would end under legislation that has just been OK’d by Senate Public Safety Committee by a unanimous 3-0 vote here at the State Capitol.

Authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), SB 73 would repeal state law established during the height of the “War on Drugs” era in 1986, which enacted mandatory minimum sentences for many nonviolent drug offenses.

The measure is co-authored by Assemblymembers Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles), Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), David Chiu (D-San Francisco), Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) and Senator Steven Bradford (D-Los Angeles). It is sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance.

Wiener explained that under current law, “if a person has a prior nonviolent drug offense and is convicted of a second offense for something such as drug possession for personal use, a judge is not allowed to sentence them to probation. It also bans judges from sentencing first-time offenders for a number of nonviolent drug charges to probation.”

SB 73, the author said, would give judges sentencing discretion, allowing them to sentence those convicted of these offenses to probation and rehabilitative programs rather than jail time, if appropriate.

“Mandatory minimum sentences are a large contributor to our current system of mass incarceration,” said   Wiener. “Black and Brown communities have been devastated by War on Drugs-era policies that unnecessarily incarcerate people who would be better served by probation or rehabilitative treatment. We need a different approach to drug policy and mass incarceration, and SB 73 offers a path forward.”

The lawmaker explained that the “War on Drugs” has “been widely acknowledged as a racist policy failure given its foundational role in building the system of mass incarceration that exists in the United States. Current mandatory minimum sentencing requirements deny judges discretion to order probation for nonviolent drug offenses, and sends more people to prison and keeps them in jail or prison longer.”

Wiener added that “Mass incarceration and the criminalization of substance use disorder is a public health issue in California. We must work to provide judges with alternatives to incarceration for these drug offenses  – particularly in cases where someone is struggling with substance use disorder – instead of defaulting to incarceration.”

“There is a growing bipartisan consensus in the US that mandatory minimums do not enhance public safety, but rather lead to unjust sentences, harm to families, and unsustainable spending on jails and prisons,” said Armando Gudiño of Drug Policy Alliance. “Senator Wiener’s SB 73 is an incremental measure, restoring judicial discretion to order probation supervision and services, in the interest of justice.”

Wiener noted in a statement that “Not only is mass incarceration bad for public health, it’s also a giant expense for California in a time when we face massive budget cuts and an economic recession due to the COVID-19 pandemic and economic shutdown. Mass incarceration costs our state unnecessary billions that should be going to things like schools, healthcare, and infrastructure.

“As our country reckons with police violence and begins a massive rethinking of our criminal justice system, we must take seriously the ways we can begin to end our system of mass incarceration. The “War on Drugs” – and its disproportionate criminalization of Black and brown communities – must end, and SB 73 would repeal one of the era’s worst leftover laws.

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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