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Simple Possession Now a Misdemeanor? Thoughts on 780 /781

In this article, and many others, I will be discussing my opinions on the topics of certain laws and drugs. So I need to throw in a quick disclaimer. I am not an attorney, I do not condone illegal activity and I do not offer legal advice to anyone. My opinions on the medical or recreational use of marijuana are irrelevant. If you choose to play the “risk vs. reward” game with your freedom, then by all means do what you do. Just don’t tell them I said you could.

Now, as you may know, Oklahoma has voted into law house bills 780 and 781. I’ll give you the bullet point version. Simple possession amounts of certain drugs will now become misdemeanor offenses whereas they were/are automatic felonies. The intention is to make it easier for these defendants to be released from jail, thereby lowering jail population. 781 is intended to take the money saved from housing them as inmates and apply those funds to rehabilitation efforts that can be provided for free to those who want help.

I will be the first to say that the bills are written very poorly. Further, the amount of resources that will be required fund the 781 efforts alone will likely consume more money than will be saved by 780. But you can believe that there are some “non profit” organizations that are really looking forward to the roll out. No… I don’t believe that every person caught with a little weed deserves to be locked away, but I don’t believe that an all inclusive law is far from a solution. The fact is that we are talking about folks who made the choice to break the law.

Some (and I reiterate the word some) drug offenders are up to no good but there are others who use illegally out of necessity (in their perspective). We’re not just talking about those who have an addiction as a result of some corrupt doctor or pain management program. Consider the man with a serious back injury who cannot afford health insurance but makes too much for free insurance. By the way that is the majority of middle class America. He can’t afford to see a doctor for pain medicine. So should he lie in pain, unable to work and provide for his family? Most men would take the risk and buy a few pain killers off the street. Now on his way to work he gets pulled over. The Lortab in his pocket is now a one way ticket to Stoney Lonesome. Wait, it gets worse. His car gets impounded and he loses his job and he cannot afford to make a $10k bail and now his family will be evicted. Can this guy afford good legal representation? Wouldn’t this guy benefit from 780? I think so, but unfortunately this guy is the exception to the normal offender.

Now, if you agree with the law simply because you are less likely to do time for possessing your personal stash of meth, well you’re part of the reason for the bills’ opposition. As anyone who has dealt with an addict family member knows, there is a fine line between helping and enabling. And that line lies within the individual and their will/desire to change. How can the law possibly know the difference? As someone who has made hundreds of arrests, I can tell you with certainty that everyone wants help while they are in handcuffs. So, I’d like to see some more language in the law. For example, language that reclassifies a repeat offense or even an exception when a person is in possession while on probation or while committing any other offense; such a DUI or theft.

Another concern is with the defendant’s returning to court, considering that Oklahoma County tends to release people charged with misdemeanor offenses without requiring them to make bail. While that is a different topic all together, I will touch on it. When a person is on bail, their Bondsman keeps track of them (or is supposed to) and ensures their return to court. If they fail to comply, their return to custody is at the expense of the bondsman, not the taxpayers. That won’t be the case for those released under the new 780 and 781. When they fail to appear, and most will) it will be our tax dollars that fund efforts to hunt them down and return them to custody.

I’ll leave you with a couple of points to ponder. First, Statistics aside, what ratio of drug offenders do you think will voluntarily change and return to court on their own accord versus those who will remain at large committing more crimes against our citizens? Second, could this be a ploy to relieve liability from those in charge of overseeing our jail, its funding, and redirecting those funds into the pockets of someone who has managed to stay below the radar? Well, time will tell.

As always, I would love to know what you think.

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