SB 163: Drug Possession Sentencing

You need only look at the sponsors of SB 163 to see that it is a remarkable bill.  Sen. Shawn Mitchell (R-Broomfield) and I have introduced the bill in the Senate, and Rep. Don Beezley (R-Broomfield) and Rep. Claire Levy (D-Boulder) are the House sponsors.  The Minority Leaders from both chambers are co-sponsors, as are a diverse and bipartisan group of other legislators from right, left and center.

SB 163 is the next step in reforming our sentencing laws for drug offenders.  It follows in the footsteps of HB 10-1352, which was a bill sponsored by Sen. Mitchell and I in 2010.  Like HB 1352, we continue to focus on low-level drug offenses: possession of small quantities of drugs that are for personal use.  Research from 2010 allowed us to distinguish between small amounts for individual use and larger amounts that suggest a person is involved in distribution of illegal drugs.  SB 163 lowers the penalty for possession of these small amounts from a felony to a class 1 misdemeanor.  The penalty for possession of larger amounts – without the intent to distribute – is also lowered, but remains a felony.  Both changes will save money in Colorado’s prison budget.

The difference between a felony charge and a misdemeanor is significant.  It means prison is not a possibility.  It means the money that would have been spent on a prison bed is instead available for investment in community-based drug treatment programs.  It means that a person struggling with addiction may get the help they need.  The road to recovery is long and challenging, but a detour to prison and a felony conviction on one’s record only make it more daunting.  We can be smarter in our approach, and SB 163  is the next step in getting us there.

SB 163 is supported by the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition and the Independence Institute.  I’m certain that a broad coalition of additional advocacy organizations will throw their support behind the bill as it moves forward.  Stay tuned.

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