Just as many other states in the union have already done, California is set to make simple drug possession a misdemeanor. Right now, it’s a felony and that means that people who are using drugs, but not selling or transporting them, are charged with and convicted of crimes that make their lives after prison a nightmare. Lawmakers and law enforcement officials are split as far as their opinions go. Some say that it’s a great cost-saving measure for the prison system and other say that it makes California drug policy too lax. Voters will have their chance to weigh in in November when the measure comes up for a vote.
The idea behind the measure is similar to that of Proposition 36, the measure that made it possible for first time offenders charged with possession could seek out treatment instead of being put in jail. If the measure passes, it would mean that people who are caught in possession of small amounts of most drugs will not have to deal with either long and seemingly unfair prison sentences or the aftermath of having a dark spot on their records (which creates problems with getting employment and having the best access to education).
For example, were the ballot measure to pass, it would mean that drugs like cocaine and heroin would be treated in a way much like marijuana is treated in California now. If a person has 28.5 grams of marijuana or less in their possession, it is considered an infraction and carries with it only a $100 fine. As it stands, felony penalties for the drugs included in the ballot measure can be up to 3 years in state prison, whereas after the measure has passed, it could be lessened to about 1 year (California Health and Safety Code 11350).