Civil-rights leaders committed to bill that makes drug possession a misdemeanor

For Immediate Release: 2/27/2012
Contact: Abel Habtegeorgis
Media Relations Manager
(510) 428-3939 x232

(Oakland, CA) – Civil rights activists responded favorably today to the introduction of legislation in California that would make the maximum penalty for possession of drugs for personal use one year in county jail rather than the current three years. State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) introduced SB 1506, which would reclassify drug possession as a misdemeanor rather than a felony, not only reducing the maximum sentence, but removing life-long barriers to financial aid for college, food and housing assistance, and improving the likelihood that a person could find employment post-conviction.

“Too often, people’s lives are ruined for having minor amounts of drugs,” said Jakada Imani, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. “This bill takes the important first step to stopping this senseless cycle that doesn’t improve public safety, wastes billions of taxpayer dollars, and warehouses whole communities in prison.”

Thirteen states, the District of Columbia and the federal government currently treat drug possession for personal use as a misdemeanor, with punishments generally ranging from three months to one year.  Rates of drug crime were not lower in states with tougher penalties. In fact, the best predictor of reduced drug rates was a greater number of drug treatment slots, either voluntary or through the courts.

“There is no evidence to suggest that long prison sentences deter or limit people from abusing drugs,” said Senator Leno. “In fact, time behind bars and felony records often have horrible unintended consequences for people trying to overcome addiction because they are unlikely to receive drug treatment in prison and have few job prospects and educational opportunities when they leave. This legislation will help implement public safety realignment and protect our communities by reserving prison and jail space for more serious offenders.”

The legislation is sponsored by a coalition that includes Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance and the California State NAACP.


The award-winning Ella Baker Center is named for an unsung hero of the civil rights movement who inspired and guided emerging leaders. We build on her legacy by giving people opportunities and skills to work together to strengthen our communities so that all of us can thrive.