California District Attorneys Protest Bill to Decriminalize Dangerous Hallucinogenic Drugs

The California District Attorneys Association has issued a formal objection to State Senator Scott Wiener’s Senate Bill 58, which seeks the wholesale decriminalization of many dangerous hallucinogenic drugs. While observing that mental health and addiction crises have worsened, Sen. Wiener claims, “Psychedelics have tremendous capacity to help people heal, but right now, using them is a criminal offense.”

“This proposal recklessly puts policy before science for numerous psychedelic drugs that have proven to be highly unpredictable and have even been connected to violent crimes,” said Greg Totten, CEO of the California District Attorneys Association (CDAA).

“If the proponents want more research, that’s one thing,” Totten said. “And if they are advocating for therapeutic use under medical supervision, that is also worth considering. But science does not fully understand these drugs and that’s why this bill is so reckless, because it advocates for skipping that scientific scrutiny altogether.”

“As for dealing with drug cases involving users of hallucinogens, as prosecutors our focus has long been to seek treatment, not jail,” Totten told the Globe. “We know that we can help people get on the right track by compelling them into treatment for drug addiction, and that is only possible if there are laws that govern these controlled substances.”

However, and perhaps a bit ironic, Sen. Wiener supported Proposition 47 in 2014, and Proposition 57 in 2016, both of which not only decriminalized many drug offenses, but removed the tools prosecutors and judges regularly used in sending drug offenders to treatment rather than prison.

In effect, Sen. Wiener won’t admit that Proposition 47 has caused the drug-related homeless crisis and increase in crime. Instead of admitting the failure of Prop. 47 and seeking to reverse it, Sen. Wiener is using the crisis to actually make it worse by further decriminalizing even more drugs and drug use and possession.

“California has implemented an alarming cocktail of criminal justice ‘reforms’ that are likely to lead to a major crime wave into 2016,” I wrote in the chapter on crime in James Lacy‘s Taxifornia 2016, for which I interviewed Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert. She was instrumental in providing confirmation about the rising crime rate in Sacramento and California. Schubert explained “the measure covered more crimes than non-violent drug offenders. Moreover, drug addicts are likely to get less treatment in the state’s drug courts because prosecutors have lost a bargaining chip in the plea process. Add to it the court-ordered prisoner releases as a part of the state’s prison realignment under the 2011 AB 109 law, and you have a state ripe for a surge in crime; such as what is already underway in Oakland, which even after Jerry Brown’s eight years on-the-scene as Mayor, the FBI still considers one of the most dangerous cities in America.”

DA Schubert’s warnings were precise and prophetic, foreshadowing exactly what is occurring in California 2022.

Proposition 47,passed by misinformed voters in 2014, flagrantly titled “The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act,” decriminalized drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor, removing law enforcement’s ability to make an arrest in most circumstances, as well as removing judges’ ability to order drug rehabilitation programs rather than incarceration. And perhaps the most obvious aspect of Prop. 47 on display today raised the theft threshold to $950 per location, and bumped theft down to a misdemeanor from a felony.

Proposition 57, shamelessly titled “the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act,” now allows nonviolent felons to qualify for early release, and parole boards can now only consider an inmate’s most recent charge, and not their entire history because of this proposition. Notably, both Prop. 47 and 57 were given their ballot titles by then-Attorney General Kamala Harris.

In the ballot opposition to Prop. 47, the National Association of Drug Court Professionals said, “Proposition 47 provides for virtually no accountability, supervision or treatment for addicted offenders. Prop 47 removes the legal incentive for seriously addicted offenders to seek treatment. … Proposition 47 turns a blind eye to over two decades of research and practice that demonstrates addicted offenders need structure and accountability in addition to treatment to become sober.”

“As prosecutors, we have always focused on treatment,” Greg Totten said. “We can’t compel treatment today as we used to before Proposition 47.”

And notably, Totten said Wiener’s bill doesn’t actually get people into treatment.

The nexus between violent crime and drug use is evident to everyone in California, observing from a front row seat on city streets and neighborhoods across the state.

Totten also said the vast majority of Sen. Wieners’ constituents as voters oppose this proposed policy, based on their recent recall of former San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, whose reckless drug policies exacerbated open drug use, and the subsequent crime and homelessness in the City by the Bay.

Sen. Wiener acknowledges the problem: “In the past few years, the mental health and addiction crises have worsened,” he says. “Since the onset of the pandemic, so many people have dealt with unemployment and financial distress, a lack of community and social isolation, and loss of friends or family — anxiety, depression, overdose and suicide rates are up across the country. With many people seeking treatment for these conditions, it’s critical that we look to alternatives to criminalizing and incarcerating people who are using psychedelics to heal.”

But his bill actually doesn’t do anything to get people to needed treatment, whether that treatment is with hallucinogens or psychedelics. And isn’t that what he claims SB 58 is all about?

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