SB 649: Demilitarizing the Drug War
By Chris Norby, Fullerton / 714-990-2064 / firstname.lastname@example.org
California’s SB 649 removes mandatory felony charges for those caught with possession of illegal drugs. It grants locally-elected district attorneys discretion in charging non-violent drug users. A felony charge could still be an option, but so could a misdemeanor or civil fine.
Mandatory minimum sentences have long hogtied judicial discretion and condemned non-violent citizens to years behind bars. They have had a vastly disproportionate impact on poor and minorities, ensnaring 25% of young black men into the criminal justice system, mostly for non-violent offences. Even those who’ve kicked the drug habit and reformed their lives remain lifelong felons unable to find gainful employment to support their families.
While serving in the legislature, I consistently voted for a less punitive and more rehabilitative approach to drug use. I opposed asset seizure laws that confiscated property associated with a drug bust—even when there was no conviction. I voted for fairer marijuana sentencing. I voted to allow farmers to grown industrial hemp. I would have voted “yes” on SB 649 to allow a less vindictive approach to non-violent drug users.
Among those voting “no” on SB 649 was Sharon Quirk-Silva, my opponent in the 65th District race last fall. We obviously have different views on drug policy, but voters could never have known that. Her advisors would not allow her to appear at any candidate forums despite repeated invitations by community groups. All joint appearances were spurned so there was no open exchange of ideas. They vastly outspent me with special interest money and a flood of hit pieces and personal attacks. The law enforcement unions that helped fund this smear campaign strongly oppose drug law reform. For them, the War on Drugs means money and job security.
Before the campaign, I had considered Sharon a friend and we often discussed issues together. Such a discussion was not a part of this campaign, however; simply a formulaic flood of hit mail. The powerful special interests had a lot to gain by silencing divergent viewpoints.
Though I lost the election, I still raise my voice for a rational drug policy. Adults should not be punished for making bad decisions. There are nearly 50,000 serving time just for the marijuana possession–that’s over $50 billion lost annually in prison costs and lost production.
Though SB 649 passed by only a single vote (cast by Assemblyman Tim Donnelly) there is a growing bi-partisan collation to reform our punitive and costly drug laws. Adult Americans should not be in prison for private non-violent behavior. Drug use is a health issue, not a criminal one. I ask that those who represent me join this coalition. The Drug War has cost taxpayers and American families too much to continue unchallenged. War is not the proper model for any domestic policy.
About Chris Norby
“Judge government not by its intentions, but by its results; and treat the taxpayer’s money as if it were our own-because it is.” These are the guiding principles of Assemblyman Chris Norby’s 26 years of elective office.
Prior to his election to the legislature, Norby served on the Orange County Board of Supervisors for 7 years, representing Fullerton, La Habra, Placentia, Buena Park and Anaheim. Norby served on the Fullerton City Council from 1984-2002, including three years as Mayor.