Gov. Gavin Newsom, D-Calif., signed legislation Tuesday ending mandatory minimum jail sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.
The bill, SB73, goes into effect in January 2022 and allows judges to sentence offenders to probation instead of jail time. Under current law, probation is off the table for anyone selling or possessing for sale more than 14 grams of heroin or PCP.
The bill was first sponsored by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, who lauded the governor for his action.
“The racist, failed War on Drugs has helped build our system of mass incarceration, and we must dismantle and end its vestiges, which are still in place today,” Wiener said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “War on Drugs policies are ineffective, inhumane and expensive.”
Wiener also tweeted about the new law, writing, “Mass incarceration of non-violent drug offenders hasn’t reduced drug use or addiction. Time for a new approach. Thx, Governor, for this overdue step.”
“Our prisons and jails are filled with people — particularly from communities of color — who have committed low-level, nonviolent drug offenses and who would be much better served by non-carceral options like probation, rehabilitation and treatment,” said Weiner, according to The Associated Press. “It’s an important measure that will help end California’s system of mass incarceration.”
The California Association of Highway Patrolmen denounced the new law, saying the existing penalties “work as a deterrent or a reason for individuals to get the treatment they need to turn their lives around,” according to the AP. The law enforcement group soberly predicted that the law will worsen drug crimes.
Wiener’s bill “sets a dangerous precedent … and would jeopardize the health and safety of the communities we are sworn to protect,” warned the California Police Chiefs Association.
Wiener has sponsored other controversial legislation in the state Senate, such a law to allow “safe injection sites” for drug addicts.
In 2020, Wiener made headlines for introducing a bill that allowed a judge the discretion to prevent a young adult convicted of gay sex with a minor from registering as a sex offender, which Newsom also signed.