A recent survey conducted by Lake Research Partners, a professional pollster, found that nearly 75 percent of likely voters in California believe the penalties for marijuana possession are too harsh, and that the drug charges brought for possessing a small amount of marijuana should be misdemeanors, not felonies. Forty percent of those polled went further, saying that minor marijuana possession should be charged as an infraction — the equivalent of a traffic ticket.

Nearly a quarter of those surveyed also said that there should be no prison time for those caught with a small amount of any illegal drug intended for personal use. About 27 percent thought that the prison sentence for minor drug possession should be less than three months, and only 8 percent thought the prison term should be a year or longer.

The poll surveyed 800 people statewide who said they intended to vote in the 2012 general election. Democrats, Republicans and nonpartisan voters in every region of the state were queried, and their support for reducing sentences for minor drug charges crossed party lines, with substantial majorities among voters from all political viewpoints supporting the reduction.

“Californians don’t want to waste money on incarcerating people for drug possession. They’d rather see that money go for something else,” said a spokesperson for the Drug Policy Alliance, a national organization that advocates for reducing sentences for drug crimes and one of the organizations that funded the poll.

Three-quarters of likely voters say California should shift money from imprisoning drug users to other priorities

Nearly 75 percent of those surveyed agreed that, in the midst of a budget crisis, the State of California should stop using millions of dollars a year imprisoning drug users and instead spend that money on schools, healthcare or law enforcement. A clear majority of the likely voters said that California sends too many people to prison. They also indicated they would be more inclined to reelect state lawmakers who vote to decrease the penalties for drug possession.

The poll did not define a “small amount” of a drug. Under current law, possession of an ounce (28.5 grams) or less of unconcentrated marijuana is charged as an infraction, while possession of any amount of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine or other controlled substances is a felony.

The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. It was released by the Drug Policy Alliance, the ACLU of Northern California, and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Most California voters say possessing small amount of illegal drugs should be misdemeanor, not felony,” John Hoeffel, April 11, 2011