February 21st, 2017
Last year Oklahomans voted by a large margin to approve SQ 780, which changed drug possession charges from felonies to misdemeanors punishable by no more than 1 year in jail. Voters also approved SQ 781 to direct the savings from reduced incarceration into county mental health and addiction treatment. Oklahoma voters’ choice aligns with plentiful research and experience showing felony charges and incarceration are costly and ineffective at dealing with the problems created by drug abuse and addiction, and reducing felony charges would save lives and free up resources to address the real problem.
HB 1482 would ignore the evidence and the will of the voters by reinstating felony charges for drug possession across virtually all of Oklahoma City and Tulsa and large parts of the rest of the state. The bill claims to be aimed at protecting children, but the expansive definition it uses for drug possession “near children” would effectively nullify SQ 780. It also ignores that a parent or caregiver facing felony charges and incarceration can often be far more damaging to a child’s well-being than taking a smarter approach to substance abuse.
What You Can Do
HB 1482 has passed out of the House and heads to Senate committee next. Please find your Senators here and tell them to vote NO on HB 1482.
HB 1482 makes drug possession a felony again across very large areas of cities and towns
- HB 1482’s “enhancement zones” would make drug possession a felony within 1,000 feet (more than 2 city blocks) of every daycare, school, park, and church in Oklahoma. HB 1482 would result in drug possession being punished far more harshly in urban areas than in rural areas. [Update: An amendment to include only schools has been introduced, but the felony zones will still cover substantial portions of populated areas.]
- Overlap of these zones means that drug possession would again become a felony across large parts of cities and towns, including nearly all of Oklahoma City and Tulsa, where the biggest majorities of voters were in favor of SQ 780.
- The law will affect numerous people within homes that simply happen to be near a designated area.
HB 1482 unfairly targets mothers and caregivers
- By including drug possession “in the presence of children,” HB 1482 will make Oklahoma’s female incarceration rates worse. Women whose only crime is drug possession still need treatment, not incarceration. Treatment is more effective than incarceration for protecting children and preventing recidivism.
HB 1482 is not needed to protect children
- Possession with intent to distribute most controlled dangerous substances – including marijuana – is still a felony with a 2 year mandatory minimum sentence in Oklahoma. For other drugs, the mandatory minimum is 5 years in prison.
- Research shows that less than 1 percent of drug dealing cases in enhancement zones involve minors.
HB 1482 contradicts the will of voters who approved SQ 780 by a strong majority in November.
- SQ 780 passed by a 17-point margin in November. Oklahomans want a new approach to criminal justice that focuses on treatment for those with addiction and substance abuse issues, not incarceration.