The spectacular, historic victory of Proposition 47


It’s that time of year time for me to say thanks for many things, including acknowledging the many voters across the country that voted for drug policy and sentencing reform.  These midterm elections were notable for several reasons:  victories of Republican politicians in many places where voters also overwhelming supported both sentencing and drug policy reform, and the growing bipartisan support for criminal justice reform by politicians and voters alike.  On Election Day 2014, marijuana and Proposition 47 received more votes than did many incumbents.  Alaska – now the first red state to legalize adult consumption marijuana – joined Oregon and the District of Columbia, while Guam approved medical marijuana.  Although Florida voters did not quite manage to pass a Constitutional amendment which required a super majority (60%) to pass, medical marijuana (58%) still garnered a half-million more votes than the Republican incumbent.

Here in California the passage of Proposition 47, the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Ballot Initiative, sent a strong message to law enforcement and in particular the drug warriors, that the voters are tired of the failures of the drug war and our policies of mass incarceration.  Last year  in the US we arrested over 1.5 million drug offenders.  Over 80% of all drug offenses were for simple possession only, with marijuana accounting for over 40% of those arrests.  In California we concentrated as many resources on drug offenders  arresting slightly more criminals for violent and property crime combined:

I believe that the evolution of the public on drug and criminal justice matters is light years ahead of most law enforcement professionals and politicians as evidenced by public polling like this recent Reason Rupe Poll that continues to show increasing support (77%) by the public for prison reform including eliminating mandatory minimums for non-violent offenses, as well as support for drug policy reform in general.  In a resounding win the voters ignored the coordinated fearmongering of law enforcement and passed Proposition 47 by a whopping 58.5%.  Even here behind the Orange Curtain, conservatives and liberals alike voted hand-in-hand to change a system that is neither effective or efficient.

In an article I wrote for I noted the hypocritical nature of the No on 47 Campaign which “lamented their loss” blaming it on “outside interests,” while turning a blind eye to their own insidious form of crony capitalism. In a survey just released by Chapman University titled ‘What Americans Fear Most’  the fear of crime continues to plague Americans, despite its steady decline since 1993, a decline noted by criminologists and the police alike.

The No on 47 Campaign clearly understood this deep-rooted fear in the American psyche and continued to attempt to prey on voters with lies, mischaracterizations and fear mongering.  Law enforcement associations such as the San Diego Police Officers Association (POA) and others made claims such as this:

This hyperbole is not new from law enforcement associations or other professional organizations. What is new though is that the voters are willing to ignore the spin and to analyze the many failings of a criminal justice system run amok.  Some of the shortcomings of California’s over-emphasis on mass incarceration includes one of the highest recidivism rates in the country (65% to 70%),  the ongoing federal receivership of our correctional system based on a Supreme Court ruling that revealed that the conditions in our prisons amounted to a violation of the 8th Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment,”  as well as the high economic cost of housing an inmate versus educating our children.  Folks speculating on what impact Proposition 47 might have on crime should consider the impact that the last two years of prison realignment have had, according to the FBI UCR Report.

Crime in the United States
by Region, Geographic Division, and State, 2012–2013
Area Year Population Violent crime Property crime
Number Rate per
Number Rate per
     California 2012 37,999,878  160,944 423.5  1,049,465 2,761.8
2013 38,332,521  151,879 396.2  1,018,907 2,658.1
Percent change -5.6 -6.5 -2.9 -3.8

Despite the doomsday predictions of many officials regarding prison realignment, after an initial spike in property crime in 2011, crime was reduced throughout California the last two years.  Yet realignment revealed infrastructure gaps based on its overarching goal of simply downsizing the prison population without addressing the need to fund and develop local county initiatives that support re-entry, mental health programs in addition to drug  rehabilitation.

Proposition 47 will likely help alleviate that burden by shifting fiscal resources from housing inmates in prison to providing programs that historically have been more effective in preventing crime and recidivism. But what does this reform do exactly?  For one thing, it reduces certain drug and theft related felonies or “wobblers” offenses to misdemeanors unless committed by those deemed as ineligible, which includes those with priors for violent crimes such as murder, rape and child molestation.  It also excludes those with certain prior weapon offenses and those required to register as sex offenders.  The new law created a new commercial burglary offense while allowing resentencing of certain convicted felons as misdemeanants. 

What Proposition 47 will not do is to allow criminals that use force or fear to “carjack” your vehicle to escape justice, as committing a robbery is  still a felony.  Nor will it allow rapist’s to escape punishment for merely possessing GHB when clearly administering the drug and committing rape is still a felony offense.  These arguments  are examples of what many voters saw as a deceptive and misleading  campaign which helped push the initiative to success, while revealing  the Machiavellian nature of  our criminal justice professionals who  will use any means necessary including lies, and distortion to justify the result that favors their own interest.

About Diane Goldstein

Diane Goldstein is a 21-year veteran of law enforcement who retired as the first female lieutenant for the Redondo Beach Police Department, (CA). She is a speaker and Executive Board Member for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and a member of the Moms United To End The War on Drugs Steering Committee. She is a guest columnist for a variety of publications as well as appearing on television , and on radio as a political commentator.