California Legislature Approves Repeal of Drug War-Era Law that Established Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Press Release September 13, 2021
Media Contact

Matt Sutton 212-613-8026
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Sacramento, CA—September 13, 2021— In the final hours of the legislative session, the California legislature voted to approve SB 73, legislation to end mandatory jail sentences for certain drug sale offenses. This would amend incarceration mandates established during the height of the “war on drugs” era during the 1980s. The bill would not change the upper penalties but allows the judges to order probation and community-based services, that do not exist in most county jails. 

Currently, mandatory minimum sentencing requirements deny judges the discretion to sentence people arrested on drug charges to probation. As a result, many of the accused are sent to jail or prison even if a judge feels the person and their community could be better served through other means. If a person with a prior drug offense is convicted of a second offense for something such as drug possession for personal use, a judge is given even less discretion and is not allowed to sentence them to probation. It also bans judges from sentencing people with certain first-time drug charges to probation. Once signed by the Governor, SB 73 will give judges sentencing discretion, allowing them to sentence those convicted of these offenses to probation and rehabilitative programs rather than jail time, if appropriate.   
The bill is authored by Senator Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Assembly member Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles) and is supported by a wide coalition of state and national organizations including the Drug Policy Alliance, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, California Public Defenders Association, as well as drug treatment professionals. 
“If we are serious about ending the War on Drugs, which has been a racist policy failure, then we must start by expanding alternatives to incarceration for those who commit nonviolent drug offenses,” said Senator Wiener. “It’s simple: judges should not be forced to send someone to jail if they think non-carceral options are more fitting. SB 73 is an important criminal justice reform bill that will remove another harmful vestige of the War on Drugs era – mandatory minimum jail time for nonviolent drug offenses.” 
“We are grateful to Senator Wiener and Assembly member Carrillo for leading the fight for greater justice in the state legislature,” said Jeannette Zanipatin, State Director of Drug Policy Alliance. “Nationally, there is a bipartisan consensus that mandatory minimums are unjust, ineffective and fiscally irresponsible. We are heartened that California law might finally catching up with that reality.” 
“Mandatory minimums disproportionately affect people of color, many of whom may suffer from a number of pre-existing mental and health conditions,” said Assembly member Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles). “It is why judges must be able to evaluate crimes and grant probation when it is in the interest of justice, in the interest of public safety, and is consistent with the values of our communities. For these reasons I am proud to co-author SB 73.”   
The bill now heads to Governor Newsom, who has until October 10th to act on the bill.   

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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