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Most California voters say possessing small amount of illegal drugs should be misdemeanor, not felony

A marijuana joint.

Document: Read the report on the drug penalties in California A strong majority of California voters believe the penalty for possession of a small amount of an illegal drug for personal use should be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor, according to a poll released Monday by organizations seeking to relax drug laws.

DOCUMENT: Read the report on the drug penalties in California

The survey conducted by a professional polling firm found that almost 75% of California voters likely to cast ballots in 2012 believe the crime should be downgraded to a misdemeanor. And 40% went even further, saying they think it should be dropped to an infraction, which is the equivalent of a speeding ticket and carries no prison time.

The poll did not define what is considered a small amount of a drug. Possession of controlled substances, such as cocaine and heroin, is a felony, although charges are sometimes reduced. Marijuana is treated separately, and possession of an ounce or less is an infraction.

A majority of voters also said California sends too many people to prison. And almost 75% agreed that in the midst of a budget crisis, the state should instead use the millions of dollars spent to imprison drug users on schools, healthcare and law enforcement.

"The point here is that this is an overwhelming majority of California voters," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, the deputy state director for Southern California for the Drug Policy Alliance, a national organization that supports efforts to reduce drug sentences. "Californians don't want to waste money on incarcerating people for drug possession. They'd rather see that money go for something else."

The poll was released by the Drug Policy Alliance along with the ACLU of Northern California in San Francisco and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland. It was designed and administered by Lake Research Partners, a Democratic polling firm.

Support for reducing drug possession penalties crosses party lines, drawing favor from substantial majorities of Democratic, Republican and nonpartisan voters. Most voters in every region of the state also back the change. Voters also indicated they are more inclined to reelect state lawmakers who vote to reduce the penalties for drug possession.

Nearly a quarter of the voters surveyed said Californians caught with a small amount of an illegal drug for personal use should not spend any time behind bars, while 27% said they should be locked up for less than three months. Just 8% suggested incarceration for a year or more.

The statewide poll surveyed 800 voters who intend to vote in the 2012 general election. They were questioned between March 21 and 24. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The results and analysis can be viewed at www.lakeresearch.com.


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Photo: Support for reducing drug possession penalties crosses party lines, drawing favor from substantial majorities of Democratic, Republican and nonpartisan voters, the poll shows. Credit: Al Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (47)

Imprisoning users of recreational amounts of these substances should not result in prison.

The tax burden of prosecuting and jailing these people is insane.

We really must stop legislating morality. If they're not driving while intoxicated, and the amounts are very small, a misdemeanor is the correct charge.

Hank Thornton

It already is an infraction in California. What a lame article.

I have a suggestion: everyone who thinks someone should go to prison for marijuana (that does not involve large sales - at this time) should pay the taxes to prosecute these people, incarcerate them, ruin their lives, keep them on parole, destroy job potential, etc. The rest of us should be permitted to OPT OUT. In fact, I think that's the way we should now pay our taxes and cut the insanity. If you agree with something and want it - put your money where your mouth is and foot the bill. If you don't, then you opt out of the never ending money churning machine. What's a small amount? That seems incredibly relative.

What money?

I am generally libertarian when it comes to individual choice activities, but I am afraid that marijuana legalization could increase the visibility of this activity - and I don't like it. Imagine strolling through the public park, and having to watch drug use in progress, legally and openly. Or at the beach. Or in the parking lot of legitimate establishments. Or watching office colleagues on their marijuana break downstairs, near the entrance to your building. It could become annoying very quickly.

The people have spoken...yet I feel like this is only going to fall upon deaf ears!...I hate politics & politicians.

Count me in as one of those in favor of decriminalization. Other than the Correctional Officers union, I think there's little support for the endless dumping of cash into the prison system created by these punitive laws.

Hank Thornton

Why was a poll even conducted in the first place? Last year, Gov. Schwarzenneger signed a law reducing possession of a small amount of marijuana from a misdemeanor, to an infraction.

Legalize it for adult usage and triple the penalty for providing it to minors.

What small amount of drugs considered small to qualify a lesser charge? For those first time offenders, YES, I agree for a lesser charge, but for those habitual users and with previous arrest records, definitely NO.

Instead of incarceration they should get a big fine--at least$1,000 for first offenses and $2,500 for subsequent offenses. That way they would learn their lesson and the government would get money to pay for the reduction in more serious crime.

And once again the Times sensationaizes an issue with the truth being buried. For Pete's sake, possession of marijuana has been a infract from some time - that was Schwartzennegger's way of defeating the legalization effort last fall. This article is about coke, herion and meth.

Yes. Possession of MJ should be downgraded to an infraction. Our prisons are full of non-violent drug offenders which is costing taxpayers billions of dollars. The Prison Industrial Complex, which is profit driven, is a major contributor to our State budget and deficit problems because of draconian drug laws, the 3 Strike Law and other kinds of misguided law enforcement.

Only the drug dealers and drug abusers want repeals. What next? Repeal murder as a crime because the funeral homes want more business?

Otherwise, Charlie WOULD be in prison??? Nah...he's white and rich! Weed, is too much like alcohol, whereas coke, meth etc deserve the instantaneous DEATH penalty, like smart, safe, Singapore!

Maybe the voters are agreeing with what was just recently voted in, infraction for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana under California Health & Safety Code 11357(b)?

Californians voted against a ballot measure that said only 10 out of 11 jurists have to vote "guilty," in order to prevent costly retrials. They have only themselves to blame, for their state being tens of millions in debt.

Holy cow people! Read the article! It states that possession of a small amount of marijuana is already an infraction, and that according to a poll, the majority of Californians want that same penalty for other drugs. Just because there's a picture of marijuana doesn't mean the article is only about marijuana.

While it is true that people in possession of controlled substances are charged with a felony, those people don't go to prison. Instead they get pc 1000 or prop 36, both of which result in no prison time and drug diversion. The people go do drug rehab, drug classes, etc where they mainly get together and exchange places to buy their drugs. In fact, in the many years I have been involved in the justice system, I am yet to see a first time offender go to prison. The same goes for second and third time offenders etc. I have actually only seen a prison sentence given if they are committing another felony when they are caught with drugs- like burglarizing a business/car/house or they are driving and injure another person (felony DUI). Other than that, felony drug possession cases (personal use not sales) are already treated with little jail time and rerely a prison stint.

Most California voters are too baked to vote at all. Didn't we have around an 8%-12% turnout the last time we had an election concerning this? Everyone was too worried, turned off about the content of the previous proposition, and/or too lazy to just make a statement that the current drug laws about marijuana are broken and need reform. Meanwhile we're wasting tax dollars and resources, and I guess people in the black market aren't finished milking this cash cow just yet and people just won't do squat until it ruins this great state into the ground. I hope you're all happy with yourselves.

herion, meth, and crack should still be..those drugs ruin lives

One thing is clear - the marijuana laws in California are confused and unclear. If you have tiny bags, a police officer can decide that you have an intent to sell so the felony/misdemeanor issue is not clear either. Cultivation is also a felony - although the people did vote that medical marijuana is legal. And then, there are "optional" felonies - whatever the hell that means.

Possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor under California Health and Safety Code Section 11357. Possession of one ounce (28.5 gms) or less is punishable by a maximum $100 fine; jail time is possible for larger amounts or for hashish, which is an optional felony ("wobbler"). Possession offenders can avoid conviction by making a preguilty plea under Penal Code 1000, in which case their charges are dismissed upon successful completion of a diversion program. Possession offenses are expunged from the record after two years under Health and Safety Code Sections 11361.5 and 11361.7.

Possession with intent to sell any amount of marijuana is a felony. Health and Safety Code 11359. There is a medical exemption in HS11362.775.

Cultivation of any amount of marijuana is a felony under Health and Safety Code 11358. People who grow for personal use are eligible for diversion under Penal Code 1000 so long as there is no evidence of intent to sell. There are no fixed plant number limits to personal use cultivation. It is possible to win diversion through a Williamson Hearing.


Common Nonsense wrote: "Imagine strolling through the public park, and having to watch drug use in progress, legally and openly." I do have to watch people do their drugs such as nicotine, caffeine and alcohol out in the open on a regular basis. You are a disgrace and a blight to true libertarians everywhere.

Too bad the Times reporter didn't bother to do a little research and instead went with the Drug Policy Alliance talking points. Had the reporter done an actual story then he would have learned that California passed a drug treatment law many years ago (Prop 36) and possession of personal use amounts of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and other hard drugs in most cases is already prosecuted as a misdemeanor. There is little to no jail time and if the people arrested successfully pass the drug treatment associated with their arrest then their record is cleared. Wake up people, our state prisons are not full of people arrested for simple possession of drugs. Pro legalization groups like the Drug Policy Alliance have an agenda and the amount of false information they put out, that doesn't get fact checked by the press is unfortunate.

Great idea but years away from a reality. Many counties in California make those convicted of possessing small amounts of meth 'register' as a "drug offender' much like convicted pedophiles. That way the cops don't need a warrant to come into your house to search for drugs because anyone on parole or probation has lost their rights to unreasonable search and seizure and they want to keep things that way. You are now 'in the system' and required to attend drug abuse programs and/or AA/NA meetings and if you don't you will be arrested and sent to jail. Getting busted 3 times for a small amounts and it's life in prison with that idiots 3 strikes law. Another example of our rights being eroded.

Dope is dope. It doesnt matter what it is. If you are high (under the influence of narcotics) you are high. No such thing as a little dope. No such thing as a little high.
Have you ever heard of "a little pregnant?"
If you are in such a medical condition in which the "end" is "near" then by all means make yourself comfortable while you are awaiting the inevitable.
Misdameanor or felony? What is the point? It is dope.

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