Drug laws in California change from time to time, depending in part on the mood of society. In the 1980s, the drug war resulted in laws that sought to punish drug users to the fullest extent of the law.
Over time, many observers believed these harsh laws failed to provide fair justice and handed out jail time in an ineffective manner.
The Drug Policy Reform Act
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, Governer Newsom signed legislation in early October of 2021 to end mandatory jail sentences for some drug offenses. The bill gives judges greater discretion when sentencing a person convicted of certain drug violations. In the past, judges had to follow the mandatory sentencing built into California law. The new law gives judges the ability to order probation and community-based services instead of jail time.
Critics of the old laws believed mandatory sentencing resulted in jail time for far too many individuals, placing a burden on the criminal justice system. Critics called policies enacted from the “War on Drugs” time period ineffective, expensive and racist. These policies also separated families and failed to make communities safer, according to many observers.
A few details of the new law
The bill still allows judges to impose harsh sentences on drug users and sellers by retaining the upper penalties for many offenses. Now, however, if the situation warrants, a judge has broader powers to require probation, community services and rehabilitation programs.
The new law will impact sentencing in many areas of drug statutes. These include drug sales, first-time offenses and repeat offenders. The Drug Policy Reform Act should result in fewer people in California jails.