California ballot measure for tougher drug, theft penalties hits key milestone

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(The Center Square) – A California ballot measure to advance tougher penalties for drug trafficking and theft has so far secured 25% of the signatures it needs to make it to the November ballot.

If adopted, the measure would significantly reform Proposition 47, a 2014 measure that required serial theft of values less than $950 per theft and trafficking of hard drugs to be charged as misdemeanors, not felonies.

The Homeless, Drug Addiction, and Retail Theft Reduction Act, sponsored by law enforcement groups and leading retailers such as Target and Walmart, is aimed at reducing the impact of Proposition 47, which many blame for the state’s unique combination of rising homelessness, drug addiction, and theft.

“We have seen a record number of voters seeking to sign the petition to place this measure on the ballot – sometimes waiting in line to do so,” said campaign chair Greg Totten, who also serves as chief executive of the California District Attorneys Association. “This is consistent with polling that has shown that 70% of likely California voters support the Homeless, Drug Addiction, Retail Theft Reduction Act. The measure is commonsense and injects accountability back into our laws for repeat offenders of theft and for crimes involving fentanyl and other serious drug crimes.”

The measure notes that since Proposition 47 was passed in 2014, California homelessness has increased 51%, while the rest of the country experienced a 11% decline over the same period.

“The result [of Proposition 47] has been massive increases in drug addiction, mental illness, and property crimes, including retail theft, committed by addicts to support their addiction,” the measure’s language says. “At the same time, California has seen a dramatic decrease in mental health and drug treatment for homeless people due to reduced incentives to participate in treatment.”

Before Proposition 47, those who serially committed theft could be charged with a repeat offender felony. With Proposition 47’s passage, that repeat offender felony was eliminated and now any theft up to $950 in value is a misdemeanor, regardless of how many times that offender has committed theft, thereby allowing those who repeatedly steal up to $950 in value to face “virtually no legal consequences,” according to the measure’s backers.

Under the new measure, an offender with two prior theft convictions can be charged with a felony, regardless of the value of the stolen property, though diversion programs will still exist for use at judges’ discretion, even for serial offenders. This discretion also will allow judges to sentence jail to some serial offenders, including state prison if an offender is convicted four or more times for theft. The measure also would allow the value of property stolen in multiple thefts to be added together so an offender can be charged with a felony theft chargeable for stealing $950 or more in value.

The measure targets so-called “smash and grab” group robberies as well by creating judges’ discretion for enhanced penalties when two or more offenders work together to cause losses of $50,000 or more.

The measure would create a new class of crime called a “treatment-mandated felony,” which would allow prosecutors to charge the crime to individuals accused of possessing “hard drugs” after two previous drug convictions upon their third or subsequent offense. Under this scheme, an offender who “successfully completes drug and mental health treatment” would have the treatment-mandated felony charge “fully expunged” and face “no jail time.” Should offenders refuse treatment, they would serve jail time for hard drug possession. Upon conviction for a second treatment-mandated felony, a judge would have the discretion to require jail time for hard drug possession. In addition to treatment, offenders would receive “shelter, job training, and other services designed to break the cycle of addiction and homelessness.”

The measure would also expand the state’s list of “hard drugs,” which includes heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, but not psychedelics such as marijuana, lysergic acid (LSD), and psilocybin mushrooms.

Notably, the measure would authorize stronger sentencing for hard drug dealers whose trafficking “kills or seriously injures a person who uses those drugs,” and require individuals convicted of hard drug trafficking to be notified that they “can be charged with murder if they continue to traffic in hard drugs and someone dies as a result.”

To qualify for the November 5 general election ballot, the measure requires 546,651 valid signatures. Given that a ballot measure can only circulate for 180 days to collect signatures, and that the California secretary of state must qualify the signatures for a ballot measure at least 131 days before a general election, the measure’s backing committee must submit the signatures well in advance of the June 29 signature verification cutoff date.

The measure collected 214,000 signatures before the first 30 days of circulation, suggesting the measure will quickly secure the signatures it needs to move forward.

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