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California votes to reduce drug possession to a misdemeanor

Voters in California have approved Proposition 47, which supporters hail as giving a real remedy to curb the continued mass incarceration of nonviolent offenders in cases where imprisonment is generally unjustified and unwarranted. The vote is also another step forward in the growing recognition that the war on drugs has been a dismal failure and a burdensome drain of valuable economic resources. The vote changes six low-level nonviolent felonies, including simple drug possession, down to misdemeanors.

The action has the potential of greatly reducing the numbers of individuals now incarcerated in state prisons. It is estimated that new incarcerations can be reduced by 40,000 to 60,000 each year simply on the basis of the lower sentences that will be put into effect. With retroactive application, the law will lead to the expected re-sentencing of about 20,000 prisoners, including some sentenced for felony marijuana convictions.

Furthermore, up to one million California residents will be eligible for automatic felony expungement. That measure will open doors for employment and various forms of government assistance. The general synergistic effect of such a benevolent act will likely result in reduced crime and increased economic growth for California.  This enlightened piece of major legislation provides for the savings of some $1 billion over the next five years, and the investment of that money directly into education, victim assistance, and drug addiction treatment services.

Due to the war on drugs, the United States proportionately incarcerates more of its own population than any other nation in the world. This measure, by making drug possession a misdemeanor and by other reform measures, can begin the process of returning California to a reasonable policy that frowns upon the incarceration of nonviolent offenders. That success will hopefully reverberate throughout the country, encouraging other states to seek the economic benefits and growing prosperity gained by California's enlightened new policies.

Source:, "Victory: California Takes Significant Step Toward Ending Mass Incarceration and War on Drugs", Nov. 5, 2014

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