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  1. Terrapinzflyer
    About 9,000 inmates in California prison are there on charges of “simple possession” of an illegal drug. And according to a new poll, commissioned by the ACLU of Northern California, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the NAACP, and the Drug Policy Alliance, most Californians don’t think they should be there.

    The poll, released earlier today and conducted by Lake Research Partners, sampled 800 registered voters from around the state and found:
    56% believe that too many people are imprisoned in California.
    72% favor reducing the penalty for personal drug possession, including majorities of Democrats (79%), independents (72%), and Republicans (66%), as well as majorities of voters in every corner of the state.
    51% believe that those caught with a small amount of drugs for personal use should spend fewer than 3 months (27%) or no time at all (24%) in jail.
    41% say they’d be more likely to support a candidate who reduced the penalty to a misdemeanor, compared to 15% who say they’d be less

    Pollsters presented typical arguments both for and against reducing possession of an illegal drug for personal use (as opposed to for sale) to an infraction or misdemeanor. Pollster David Gotoff said those polled had ”an unshakeable sense that this is the right thing to do.”

    Currently, the sentence for possession of heroin or cocaine for personal use is 16 months to 3 years in prison for those sent there. Prosecutors determine whether to charge a person with “simple possession” versus “possession with intent to sell” based on a variety of factors, including the amount of drugs found and whether they look like they’ve been packaged for sale.

    California’s Proposition 36 offers first and second-time offenders the option of treatment instead of incarceration.

    Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said since Proposition 36 passed, there are 55 percent fewer prison inmates serving terms for simple drug possession. Repeat offenders, however, run out of chances under the program. Some people “are compulsively using drugs,” Dooley-Sammuli said. “That doesn’t mean the only other option should be prison.” Moreover, Dooley-Sammuli said, those who’re sentenced under the program have a felony on their records, whether they complete treatment or serve prison time.

    Dooley-Sammuli and other members of the coalition that requested the poll hope that the results will inspire legislation or a voter initiative that ends felonies for drug use.

    Gotoff seemed to believe that the timing may be right for that change. Gotoff said he’s done a lot of polling for campaigns and policy organizations in California, and one of the tricks of the massive state is that it has several distinct yet massive media markets “with big disparities in their political attitudes.”

    Those regions polled–all major population bases–were fairly uniform in their support for reducing the penalty for simple possession of an illegal drug: Los Angeles County (79 percent); Orange County (70 percent); San Diego County (63 percent); Sacramento County (80 percent); the Bay Area (70 percent); and the Inland Empire (67 percent). Voters in those regions also supported Proposition 36 back in 2000, which passed with 60.9 percent of the general vote.

    Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed realignment of state prisons, which would send these low-level offenders to jail instead of prison, would not technically reduce the sentence for drug users–they would simply serve their time in jail instead of prison, and would still have felony records.

    April 11, 2011
    By Rina Palta


    NOTE: Poll results/notes in attached PDF


  1. talltom
    By Huge Margins, Voters Want Drug Penalties Reduced

    A brand new poll this week finds that a whopping 72% of California voters support reducing the penalty for possession of a small amount of illegal drugs for personal use from a felony to a misdemeanor, including a solid majority who support this reform strongly. The March 21-24 survey of 800 California general election voters was conducted by Lake Research Partners and commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance, the ACLU of Northern California and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. Poll results and analysis are available online.

    At a time when California is slashing funding for education and health care while billions in incarceration spending remain untouched, this poll offers important proof that Californians believe subjecting people to lengthy jail or prison terms for possession of a small amount of drugs for personal use is both wrong and costly. Changing the penalty from a felony to a misdemeanor would cut government costs by hundreds of millions of dollars a year – $4.5 billion over ten years – and free up resources for other much-needed services, including treatment and prevention, which are cheaper and more effective.

    Support for reducing drug possession penalties crosses all the partisan, regional, and demographic lines that normally divide California voters. Solid majorities of Democrats (79%), Independents (72%), and Republicans (66%) from every corner of the state overwhelmingly agree that it’s time for a new approach. We need to stop wasting precious tax dollars on unnecessary, expensive jail and prison sentences.

    The consensus is so broad and so strong, that politicians stand in the way of this sentencing reform at their own risk. A 41% plurality of those surveyed say they’d be more likely to support a candidate who reduced the penalty to a misdemeanor, compared to just 15% who say they’d be less likely.

    The recent poll found that 51% of California voters believe that people caught with a small amount of drugs for personal use should spend fewer than 3 months (27%) or no time at all (24%) in jail. The current penalty in California for possession of heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine is up to 3 years behind bars. Last week Governor Brown signed AB 109, a plan that would keep most people convicted of personal drug possession at the county level. (The future of the plan is uncertain, since it is contingent on funding that does not appear to be forthcoming.) But there are two major flaws with that proposal. First, it would still allow people to be locked up in jails for as long as 3 years for personal drug possession. That’s way out of line with what voters think – and it doesn’t maximize savings. The second major flaw with the governor’s plan is that it leaves the penalty a felony, which nearly three-quarters of California voters believe is too severe for the crime.

    According to this new poll, Californians aren’t just interested in saving money; they’re also interested in seeing people contribute to their families and communities. California voters want to see that people are not burdened with a life-long felony record for drug possession that makes it tough to find a job or support a family. Current penalties work against individual, family and community wellbeing and public safety.

    The results are in and California voters’ wishes are clear. We need to stop wasting precious tax dollars on unnecessary, expensive jail and prison sentences. We need to bring back balance in California – not just to our budget but also to the scales of justice. That means that the punishment ought to fit the crime. That means we don’t send people away for lengthy jail or prison terms simply for possessing a small amount of drugs. Balancing our priorities means we protect funding for education, health care, and safety, and this new poll points to the way we can do that.

    We are calling on the state legislature to pass a bill to reduce low-level drug possession to a misdemeanor and save hundreds of millions of dollars a year from the state corrections budget. This new poll demonstrates that meaningful sentencing reform is possible in California. It demonstrates to our elected officials that voters will not see them as “soft on crime” if they take responsible, smart steps to reform sentencing and save money.

    By Margaret Dooley-Sammuli and Allen Hopper and Kris Lev-Twombly,
    April 12, 2011

    Margaret Dooley-Sammuli is deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance in Southern California; Allen Hopper is police practices director of the ACLU of Northern California; Kris Lev-Twombly is director of programs at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

  2. felixq78
    The criminalization of drugs is no more than a means by which the importers [CIA, & other compartmentalised government entities] keep prices up. High risks associated with importation keeps the competition away.
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