New Law to Reduce Drug Possession Penalties

Several new criminal justice reform bills will take effect on November 1, 2016, in an attempt to alleviate the "tough on crime" approach that has saddled Oklahoma with one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation. These new laws will offer "smart on crime" legislation that rescind unnecessarily harsh penalties and offer greater chances for rehabilitation.

Among these new laws is House Bill 2479, which will modify penalties for certain drug crimes.

Historically, Oklahoma has had some of the toughest drug laws in the nation. This meant that even low-level, non-violent drug offenders faced the possibility of decades--even life--in prison. Many say these tough drug laws are the reason Oklahoma incarcerates women at a higher rate than any other state.

HB 2479, though, will reduce some of the penalties associated with drug possession. The new law amends 63

O.S. § 2-402 of the Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Act in several significant ways.

Until November 1, possession of a Schedule I or II drug, with the exception of marijuana, is punishable by a minimum of two years in prison and a maximum of 10 years. However, the new law will dramatically decrease those penalties, removing the two-year minimum and making the act punishable by a maximum of 5 years in prison.

Whereas a second offense is currently punishable by 4 to 20 years in prison, the new law again eliminates the minimum and cuts the maximum in half to 10 years. Penalties for a third or subsequent offense include a sentence of 4 to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Lesser drug crimes also see relief from the "draconian" penalties. Possession of marijuana or Schedule III, IV, or V substances remains a misdemeanor on the first offense; however, penalties of subsequent offenses will be lighter than under existing law: penalties for a second offense will decrease to 1 to 5 years from the existing range of 2 to 10 years.

Remember, although this bill has already been signed into law, it does not take effect until November 1, 2016. Anyone arrested and charged with an offense occurring prior to November 1 faces the existing penalties, which in most cases are double the sentences that will be levied under the new law.

If you or someone you love is arrested for drug possession, possession with intent to distribute, or other drug crime, contact our offices for a confidential, free review of your case.

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