In 2021, the California Department of Justice announced a 7.9% decrease in felony drug arrests. Some within the system and government credit criminal justice reform with the lower numbers.
The state has gone through some major overhauls, especially concerning how it approaches the handling and prosecution of drug crimes. From 2014 to 2017, there were three major laws that altered the landscape of drug crime prosecution in California.
In 2014, the governor signed Proposition 47 into law. This bill changed the categorization of some drug-related crimes. Instead of being felony charges, the state reduced them to misdemeanors. A misdemeanor carries far less potential incarceration times. It also is a less serious crime, so it will have lower bail amounts after an arrest and overall lower costs associated with the prosecution and for the person facing the charge.
Proposition 64 became a law in 2016. This was a major change to the drug laws in the state. It also was in opposition to federal law as it legalized marijuana for recreational use. The substance was already legal for medical purposes, but complete legalization helped to remove many crimes from the books as adults could now possess and use the substance within the new limitations.
Senate Bill No. 180
In 2017, Senate Bill No. 180 came into effect. It erased a mandatory minimum sentence for individuals with previous drug convictions. A mandatory minimum requirement meant the judge had to give at least the amount of prison time stated in the law. This change opened the door for judges to have more leeway in providing lenient sentencing for first-time offenders or the ability to offer alternate sentencing options for some offenders.
While California has had various changes to its criminal laws in recent years, these three bills had a huge impact on drug crimes. They may have helped to reduce the number of arrests for this category of criminal activity.