Written by Kevin Akpan, SSDP Stories Intern, and Greg Gaffney-Bills, Policy and Legislative Affairs Director at George Washington University
In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drugs. Possession of everything from marijuana and psychedelics to heroin and cocaine now results in mandatory drug education, counseling, and rehabilitation, instead of incarceration. Oddly enough, the sky didn’t fall and the world kept spinning. However, the prohibitionists were right about one thing: it fundamentally changed the social order.
The blanket decriminalization cut drug addiction rate in Portugal by 50%. Overdoses and drug related diseases like HIV, that are the result of practices such as sharing needles, have fallen sharply as well, and are now among the lowest in the European Union. Prohibitionists will tell you that we can’t reform drug policy because the science isn’t in yet, or because it will encourage youth drug use. The truth of the matter is that decriminalization and legalization saves lives, keeps families together, and reduces drug use in the population. With the introduction of Proposition 47, California has taken the first step down the path towards sensible drug policy reform.
Proposition 47, the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, would change the classification of non-violent drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. This small change, with relatively little impact on most Californians, ensures that non-violent drug offenders remain eligible to vote, work, serve in the military, and obtain a variety of licenses and permits. Californians already in prison for nonviolent drug offenses, or convicted under the “three strikes” law would have an opportunity to appeal for reduced sentences. In the interest of public safety, resentencing would only occur after a thorough review process to ensure those wishing to be resentenced aren’t a danger to society. All told, more than 7,000 men and women could appeal to the courts to return home to their families and contribute to society, instead of relying on society for support.
The Legislative Analyst’s Office, a nonpartisan organization, estimated that Proposition 47 could save the state of California up to $300 million. Of these savings, the majority would fund grants for mental health and substance abuse treatment, with the remaining 25% going to the California Department of Education.
Proposition 47 would reduce California’s prison population, repair broken homes and families, decrease the incidence of communicable diseases, refocus law enforcement resources on arresting real, violent criminals, and fund schools, not prisons. This November, vote yes on 47.
Students For Sensible Drug Policy