In 2014, California voters approved sweeping changes to the state's sentencing laws for certain felony crimes when they voted in favor of Proposition 47, also known as The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act. Five years later, the law remains controversial, with proponents saying it has improved the lives of communities and opponents saying it has increased crime. It is beyond the scope of this blog post to say which side of that debate has a better argument, but there is no question that Proposition 47 has made a positive difference in the lives of people accused of drug crimes.
Proposition 47 reclassified certain felony drug crimes as misdemeanors. It also allowed convicted people currently serving time on these drug crimes to petition courts for resentencing, and allowed people who had completed their sentences under the old felony charges to apply to have their records changed from felony convictions to misdemeanors. People with one or more prior convictions are ineligible, and there are other restrictions and limitations.
The drug charges in question applied chiefly to cannabis-related crimes. California is one of many states in recent years that has experimented with decriminalizing marijuana, and emphasizing the public health aspects of drug abuse rather than treating it strictly as a criminal matter. Proposition 47 also sought to reform the state's vast prison system to concentrate on incarcerating people convicted of violent crimes, as opposed to people convicted of nonviolent offenses.
Since Proposition 47 went into effect almost five years ago, the outlook has been much better for many people accused or convicted of marijuana-related crimes. Still, penalties for other illegal drugs remain as harsh as ever.
People who are facing drug charges have the right to a defense, and should seek out the best criminal defense attorney they can. A lawyer can advise accused people of their rights, talk them through their legal options, help them develop a defense strategy and fight for them effectively at hearings, negotiations and at trial.