California voters have passed Proposition 47, a law that will reduce simple drug possession and some property crimes to misdemeanors, with 59 percent of the vote, according to statewide ballot returns. That means, effectively immediately, California joins about a dozen other states across the country with misdemeanor drug possession laws.
The proposition, called The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, calls for the estimated $200 million saved in prison costs each year to fund programs that rehabilitate drug addicts, treat mental health needs, keep kids in school and support crime victims.
"By passing Proposition 47, California voters show that they understand that the policies of the past have failed and that we cannot incarcerate our way to safety," Lenore Anderson, chair of the initiative ballot committee, said in a statement. "Californians do not want to waste any more costly prison space on nonviolent, non-serious offenses."
Supporters say the money will be better spent working to keep current and future inmates out of the criminal justice system’s revolving door by providing treatment. It is also a way to comply with the court order the state is under to reduce its prison population.
“The vote clearly shows they want change, and we need to listen to it.”
Besides making drug possession for personal use a misdemeanor, the law also focuses on five property crimes under a value of $950: theft, forgery, writing bad checks, receiving stolen property and shoplifting. A misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in jail.
In all, about 40,000 people a year are convicted of those six crimes, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office.
The measure will also allow inmates currently serving time for one of those crimes to ask for resentencing. That could apply to as many as 10,000 inmates.