California Senate Passes Bill Easing Up on Some Drug Sentencing

If successful, state would stop piling on more punishment for prior convictions.


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With the news last week that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is telling federal prosecutors to ramp the war on drugs right back up, expect to see some resistant states publicizing efforts to do the opposite.

That's happening in California, where the state's Senate this week approved SB 180, 22-13. Nicknamed the Repeal Ineffective Sentencing (RISE) Act, the bill eliminates a particular drug-related sentencing enhancement under California law.

When a person is arrested for drug sale or possession for drug sale, the state requires their sentence be enhanced by three years for each previous felony conviction for violating similar laws, even if those previous convictions didn't result in jail time.

SB 180, sponsored by Sens. Holly Mitchell and Ricardo Lara, both Democrats, would eliminate the mandated sentence enhancements, except for one that applies when the felon gets minors involved in the trade.

Even though the legislation was obviously in the works for some time, supporters of the bill cited Sessions' recent call for tougher drug sentencing on the federal level as a concern, according to the Los Angeles Times.

And yes, apparently Republicans attempted crime fearmongering to try to stop it, pointing to the case of a cop in Whittier killed by a parolee with a lengthy history of crime. But that gentleman had a history of violent criminal behavior and parole violations. He was not a guy solely in jail over drug dealing. The assumption that the mandatory minimums and sentence enhancements are necessary to go after the violent criminals ignores the lengthy history and data showing these laws often swoop up non-violent, low-level criminals for long prison sentences.

The bill has many activist group co-sponsors, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Drug Policy Alliance. Read the bill here. It is on its way to the Assembly now.