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Scott Wiener Tries Again to End Mandatory Sentences for Nonviolent Drug Offenders

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Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, introduced legislation Tuesday that aims to end minimum sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders.

In a Tweet Tuesday, Wiener said:

“The War on Drugs failed. Let’s own that failure & move forward.”

As one commenter quickly pointed out, the War on Drugs succeeded at one thing: destabilizing Black and brown communities.

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Senate Bill 73 is Wiener’s stab at ending mass incarceration and the practice of criminalizing addicts — both issues plague communities of color disproportionately. If passed, SB 73 would give judges discretion to offer probation and rehabilitation programs in lieu of jail time. Judges are currently tied to the minimum sentencing standards for second-time drug offenders.

SB 73 is another iteration of legislation he introduced in February 2019, which attempts to correct “existing law that prohibits granting probation or suspending a sentence for persons convicted of specified crimes related to controlled substances.” That bill, SB 378, has been stuck in committee since June of this year.

hands of a prisoner on prison bars

Wiener said in a statement Tuesday:

“We need to give discretion back to our courts when it comes to nonviolent drug offenses and ensure that we aren’t unnecessarily incarcerating people who might be better served by probation or treatment for addiction. Our drug laws are a stain on California, and we must stop hurting communities and wasting valuable resources jailing people who have committed nonviolent drug offenses.”

According to the Public Policy Institute of California, Black men made up more than 28 percent of the state’s male prison population in 2017. For context, Black men made up only 5.6 percent of the overall state population. Drug crimes were listed as the offense for about 8 percent of the estimated 115,000 state inmates in that same year. That comes out to about 9,200 inmates serving time for drug-related offenses.

The comment posted on Wiener’s announcement tweet hit the nose on the head. The War on Drugs was never really about eradicating drug use, which it never successfully did, and it was always a means to control minorities in the U.S. The nation’s first drug policy was rolled out in San Francisco as a way to criminalize Chinese immigrants under the guise of opium den concern. The real “war” began not with Nixon or Reagan, but back in the ‘30s with Henry Anslinger after his prohibition law dog days came screeching to a halt.

Anslinger didn’t pull any punches concerning his motivations for supporting the “Marihuana” Tax Act.

Graphic courtesy of Nik Wojcik/SFSU Drug Policy presentation

Communities of color have for several generations borne the brunt of drug laws and sentencing minimums — Wiener’s latest legislation seeks to correct at least some of those consequences in the state that broke the seal on the nation’s racist drug policies.

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.

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