Governor's Prison Plan: Don't Tax Pot, Steal a Car

SEE AUG. 22 UPDATE

August 10 - As California considers how to reduce prison spending, it has overlooked releasing non-violent marijuana prisoners in favor of car thieves.

Later this month, the legislature will be debating a plan by Gov. Schwarzenegger to reduce $1.2 billion in prison spending as part of the state's budget deal. Last week, a federal court ordered the state to eliminate 44,000 inmates over the next two years to reduce overcrowding.

However, a draft of the Administration's plan by the Department of Corrections budget office makes no mention of marijuana or other non-violent drug prisoners. Instead, it proposes raising the felony threshold for crimes such as grand theft, writing bad checks and receiving stolen property. This would make it a misdemeanor instead of a felony to steal an automobile valued at less than $2,500.   

In contrast, current laws make it a felony to sell a single joint or grow a single marijuana plant. Over the years, the state has repeatedly rejected proposals to reduce marijuana penalties. The Governor has indicated his opposition to Tom Ammiano's bill AB 390 that would eliminate pot prisoners by legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana.

The Governor's message seems to be, "Don't tax pot, steal a car," comments Cal NORML director Dale Gieringer.

To help cut prison spending, California NORML is calling on the legislature to reduce penalties for marijuana sales and cultivation from mandatory felonies to optional misdemeanors. "If the state needs to eliminate prisoners, non-violent marijuana crimes are a good place to start," says Gieringer.

As of December 31, 2008, California had 1,538 marijuana felons in state prison, 15 times as many as in 1980. Another 30,000 prisoners are serving time for non-violent drug offenses, 12,000 of them for simple possession. The Legislative Analyst's Office estimates that one year of incarceration costs the state an average of $49,000.

Victims' rights groups have attacked the Governor's plan for reducing the prison population by some 27,000 inmates, fearing that it will release dangerous and predatory criminals. Reformers argue that such concerns don't apply to marijuana and other non-violent drug offenses, which are consensual and have no victims.

Californians are urged to contact the Governor and legislative leadership and urge them to eliminate mandatory felony penalties for marijuana offenses and include marijuana offenders in the state's plans to reduce prison overcrowding.

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Dale Gieringer
California NORML
2215-R Market St. #278, San Francisco CA 94114
(415) 563-5858
www.canorml.org

SEE AUG. 22 UPDATE