Senate Passes Bill Reforming Alaska’s Drug Policy
April 4th, 2013
Senate Bill 65 reduces penalties for small quantity possession of illegal drugs from felony to misdemeanor
JUNEAU-Today, the Alaska State Senate passed Senate Bill 56 by a vote of 17 to 2. SB 56 revises a very disparate sentencing law that makes felons out of citizens for first time, small quantity, non-distributive drug offenses. SB 56 revises this with an escalating punishment regime, similar to Alaska’s approach to DUI’s, reclassifying the initial possession of Schedule IA and IIA drugs from a Class C Felony to a Class A Misdemeanor.
This reclassification preserves a serious criminal penalty for drug possession, but allows first time offenders to avoid the collateral consequences and longer prison sentences of a felony markedly improving employment prospects, professional licensing, and housing opportunities, all variables strongly correlated with decreased alcoholism, domestic violence and recidivism.
SB 56 protects law enforcement’s ability to aggressively pursue distributors and repeat offenders. SB 56 does not decriminalize or make legal any prohibited drug and retains in the law the felony charge for any act of selling or distributing any amount of a controlled substance.
According to a report from former Alaska Deputy Commissioner of Corrections Carmen Gutierrez, Alaska’s prison population is growing at one of the fastest rates in the nation, largely due to non-violent offenders.
Despite the $250 million Goose Creek Correctional Center, the Department of Corrections estimates that all available prison beds will again be full in 2016. With our prisons packed and the cost of incarceration skyrocketing, we must seek responsible ways to slow prison population growth while preserving public safety.
“This reform is following a trend led by conservative states such as Texas and Wyoming that focus prison bed space on violent and career criminals, and reduces the incidence of incarceration of non-violent individuals,” said Senator Dyson. “SB 56 takes into account the huge collateral consequences of felony convictions, especially for youthful offenders who are cut off from employment, student loans and housing opportunities for a single mistake.”
SB 56 has wide support from our justice policy groups, medical community, current and former justice system practitioners, the Alaska Native Justice Center, the Alaska Mental Health Board, and the Advisory Board on Drug and Alcoholism.
The legislation would apply to offenses committed on or after July 1, 2013.
Senate Bill 56 now heads to the House for further consideration.
For more information, please call Chuck Kopp in Senator Dyson’s office at (907) 465-2199.