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Are Drugs Now Decriminalized in California?

Daily Dose 2011-03-09 0 comments

Enacted by 61 percent of voters in November 2000 as Proposition 36, the law says first- and second-time nonviolent, simple drug possession offenders must be given the opportunity to receive substance-abuse treatment instead of jail time.

That “must” isn’t a suggestion; it would take another voter-approved ballot measure to undo it.

But Prop. 36 allocated $120 million per year for only five years, and as the state’s budget crisis worsened, the Legislature and governor declined to ante up. They set aside $108 million in 2008-09 but just $18 million in 2009-10, and then zeroed it out for this current fiscal year. Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal includes no money for it in 2011-12.

The coffers are empty, so it’s a mandate with no money, but a mandate nonetheless – someone who’s eligible and demands treatment can’t just be sent to jail.

Does this mean small amounts of drugs for personal use are essentially decriminalized? If people apprehended with small amounts of drugs cannot be jailed, then what kind of penalty can be imposed?

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, California deputy director for the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation’s largest and most prestigious drug reform organization, will be our guest on Monday, March 7 on the 6 p.m. radio broadcast and Internet simulcast of our award winning show, Marijuana Compassion and Common Sense.

Commenting on the conundrum California has created, Ms. Dooley points out that “Putting an eligible defendant on probation and a treatment waiting list creates a gray area. For example, if a wait-listed probationer fails three court-mandated drug tests, that person theoretically could still argue against being sent to jail because the state, the county or the court hasn’t held up its end of the bargain by placing him or her in treatment. You can’t be failed out of a program you aren’t in.”

The fiscal crisis is what led to the legislature reducing possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction. Join Ms. Dooley and myself as we discuss if California’s fiscal disaster has a silver lining when it comes to drug policy reform this Monday, March 7 at 6 p.m. on our award winning radio show, Marijuana Compassion and Common Sense on IE talk radio station KCAA 1050AM and on the Internet at where you can hear the show or watch us in the KCAA studios.

Selling marijuana legally vs. illegally in Palm Springs and decriminalizing drugs – interesting developments for sure.