Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill that ends mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug crimes on Tuesday, giving judges more individual discretion on punishing criminals.
Senate Bill 73, authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), ends the prohibition against probation and suspended sentencing for drug crimes, including possessing more than 14.25 grams of illegal drugs, agreeing to sell or transport opiates or opium derivatives, planting or cultivating peyote, some forging or altering prescription crimes, and other similar non-violent drug-related crimes.
According to SB 73, the bill would not end the ability of judges to administer mandatory minimum length jail sentences. It would also not end laws that require jail time for many other drug offenses or remove probation ineligibility for those who had previously committed drug felonies.
Senator Wiener wrote the bill earlier this year to better address drug addiction treatment and to stop mass non-violent crime imprisonments.
“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,” Wiener said in a statement on Tuesday. “It’s an important measure that will help end California’s system of mass incarceration.”
While opposed heavily by law enforcement groups, such as the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, due to mandatory minimums acting as a deterrent against drug use and drug related crimes, SB 73 narrowly passed both houses in the California legislature last month. In particular, the Assembly was only 4 votes away batting down the bill for the 4th time since 2018, with 42 voting in favor and 38 Republicans and Democrats not voting or voting “nay.”
Despite the large political divide over the bill, Newsom approved of the bill on Tuesday. Senator Wiener and supporters of the bill, such as drug treatment medical professionals and the California Public Defenders Association, celebrated the signing.
SB 73 signing met with praise, opposition
“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,” added Wiener in his statement. “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.”
In a tweet, the Senator added “Governor Newsom signed our legislation to end mandatory minimum jail sentences for non-violent drug offenses, SB 73. Mass incarceration of non-violent drug offenders hasn’t reduced drug use or addiction. Time for a new approach. Thx (sic), Governor, for this overdue step.”
Mass incarceration of non-violent drug offenders hasn’t reduced drug use or addiction. Time for a new approach.
Thx, Governor, for this overdue step.
— Senator Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) October 6, 2021
However, law enforcement groups reiterated on Tuesday and Wednesday that the removal of mandatory minimums would lead to side effects such as an increase of drug use, a rise in drug sales, and a rise in drug-related crimes.
“SB 73 sets a dangerous precedent and would jeopardize the health and safety of the communities we are sworn to protect,” said the California Police Chiefs Association in response to the signing.
Others, such as former police officer James Rider, added that the end of mandatory minimums would likely spur lawsuits.
“All it is going to take is one horrific crime where someone who would have received a mandatory minimum either kills someone or goes after a cop, or something serious,” Rider told the Globe on Wednesday. “That’s a huge lawsuit waiting to happen. There might be some talk of challenges going in, but with a major crime attached then you have a case. Based on similar things sort of happening, like San Francisco’s new stance on crime that caused a huge crime wave to happen there, we’ll see such an incident happen sometime in early to mid 2022.”
“And this is bad. We know that this will trigger more drug-related crimes to happen, but we can’t do anything until something particularly bad happens that is tied to the end of mandatory minimums. We know there will be blood on their hands, yet did it anyway. As a former police officer who worked with his communities to prevent crime for years, this is heartbreaking.”
Barring a lawsuit, SB 73 is due to go into effect on January 1, 2022.
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