California’s Proposition 5 would overhaul sentencing of drug offenders

Sponsors of the Proposition 5 are asking voters in November to increase treatment and eliminate incarceration for those convicted of nonviolent, drug-related crimes. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act, funded in part by billionaire George Soros, would be “the most ambitious sentencing and prison reform in U.S. history,” according to the Drug Policy Alliance Network, a primary sponsor.

Opponents contend that the drug treatment offered in lieu of incarceration would be a “get-out-of-jail-free card” for addicts. And they say the Drug Policy Alliance Network — a spinoff of Soros’ New York-based Open Society Institute, which fights against punitive drug laws — is using the initiative to chip away at its true agenda: legalizing drugs.

Of course the benefits of Proposition 5—if passed—remains to be seen. On one side, the new system would expand the pool of criminals who could take part, creating three “tracks” for offenders to receive treatment, including, at the discretion of judges, those who commit nonviolent crimes such as theft to feed their habits. Depending on their crimes, their records and their number of treatment failures, they would gradually move from the least intensive programs to the most intensive — drug courts — and the possibility of jail or prison. And by 2010, the measure would commit the state to spending at least $460 million a year, mostly to increase treatment — and eliminate incarceration — for those who commit nonviolent crimes involving drugs or fueled by them. The measure could eventually cost Californians up to $1 billion, but also could ultimately save that much by reducing incarceration, according to the state’s nonpartisan legislative analyst.

The Times reports that on the other side are judges who complain that they will rarely be able to threaten incarceration under the Act, which they believe is most effective at coercing offenders to cooperate. And even when drugs aren’t involved, the state could no longer seek to send ex-convicts to prison for low-level parole violations, or revoke parole for actions that would qualify as misdemeanors. Law enforcement groups object to a provision that would allow the expunging of some records. For example the Act would allow a methamphetamine addict who steals cars to avoid prison, to have their record sealed after completing treatment.

Would this act be one step closer to the legalization of drugs? Under the Act. possession an ounce or less of marijuana would be an infraction, instead of a misdemeanor.

Questions about this post can be directed toward Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney William Weinberg at 714.834.1400.