By Robin Simmonds
Two bills that would change sentences for drug-related crimes were approved by a slim majority in the state Senate Thursday and are on their way to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.
If signed, the measures would mark a victory for opponents of the war on drugs, who argue that criminal penalties for narcotics-related offenses fill prisons with people who shouldn’t be there and unfairly target minorities.
SB1010, sponsored by state Sen. Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) would even out penalties for powder and crack cocaine trafficking. AB2492, by another Los Angeles Democrat, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, would go further and eliminate the mandatory 90-day jail sentence for people using or under the influence of certain controlled substances.
SB1010 addresses the difference in state law between dealing crack cocaine and dealing cocaine in its powdered form: If you're convicted of possessing crack for sale, you face a sentence of up to five years in county jail. If you're found guilty of having powdered cocaine for sale, the top sentence is four years. The disparity doesn’t make any sense to Margaret Dooly-Sammuli of California’s ACLU, which made Mitchell’s measure a top priority this year.