State Questions 780 & 781: Non-Violent Drug Possession Crimes and Property Theft
A man prepares a blunt, a hollowed out cigar filled with marijuana. Oklahoma state questions 780 and 781 are concerned with the punishment for non-violent crimes such as drug possession or property theft. Photo provided by Martin Alonso.
State Question 780 will reclassify non-violent drug possession crimes and minor property theft from a felony to a misdemeanor with State Question 781 utilizing the funds that will be saved on incarceration to provide mental health and substance abuse services.
The United States has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. However, the United States has less than five percent of the world’s total population.
According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, as of September 24, 2o16, there were 83,609 inmates incarcerated for drug related crimes making up 46.4% of the total prison population of the United States.
The average annual cost of incarceration per inmate in a federal facility is $31,977.65, however, in 2014 the state of Oklahoma spent $15,213 per inmate.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, Oklahoma had the second highest incarceration rate in the country in 2014. In 2013, 10 percent of Oklahoma’s prison population consist of drug possession offenders.
Proponents of the legislation believe that such severe punishment, such as a prison sentence, for lower level crimes is contributing to the overpopulation of prisons in the state which is an issue it’s had to deal with in recent years.
Supporters also worry about how a felony conviction, for low level crimes, can affect someone’s entire life. A felony conviction can have a severe impact on one’s ability to find a good paying job as well as housing.
Supporters of SQ 781, which will can not pass without SQ 780, believe that the state’s addressal of substance abuse and mental health problems could help stop these crimes from happening in the first place.
According to the Justice Policy Institute, “increased admissions to drug treatment are associated with reduced incarceration rates.”
As of right now, small drug possession can be charged as a felony, but SQ 780 will change the drug possession offenses from a felony to a misdemeanor with a punishment of up to one year in jail with a possible fine of up to $1,000.
Those opposed to SQ 780 claim that without a felony drug charge, offenders would be less likely to complete substance abuse programs.
Some also state that while we should minimize sentences for nonviolent crimes, the crimes should still remain felonies so it shows up on the offenders record to inform potential employers of the applicants criminal activity.
Organizations opposed to the passing of SQ 780 and 781 include the police union and the Oklahoma Association of Chief’s of Police.