Oklahoma has the second-highest incarceration rate in the United States. As usual, nonviolent drug offenses are a large reason why.
Turns out, voters in the deep-red, Trump-loving state are as sick of the drug war as effete coastal liberals. On Election Day, when other states were legalizing marijuana, Oklahomans overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that reclassified nonviolent drug possession as a misdemeanor crime rather than a felony.
With 26.3 percent of the state’s prison inmates doing time for drugs, and another 23.3 percent in prison for nonviolent offenses of all kinds, Oklahoma’s drug problem was obvious, so State Question 780 was approved with 58.23 percent in support versus 41.77 percent against.
One of the felony crimes reduced to a misdemeanor was possession of drugs within 1,000 feet of a school. As a misdemeanor, that transgression still carries a penalty of up to a year in jail. But that’s not good enough for state lawmakers, who have enlisted some school superintendents in pushing to reopen that school-to-prison pipeline by making penalties for victimless crimes great yet again.
State Sen. Ralph Shortey’s SB 512 would roll back almost all of the drug-policy reforms voters just approved.
Simple possession of any drug aside from marijuana would become a felony again, as would a second offense involving marijuana—and possession of any drug within 1,000 feet of a school could be punished with a state prison term, according to KFOR-4. If that goes too far—and it does—a similar bill, the “Keep Oklahoma Children Safe From Illegal Drugs Act,” would merely reinstate the 1,000-foot felony zone around schools for simple drug possession.
A thousand feet is about three city blocks. So if you’re caught with weed in your pocket at night or on the weekend, and—surprise!—there’s a school a few blocks away, well out of sight and certainly out of session, you could go to prison.
The law also includes felony punishment for possessing drugs in the mere presence of a child under 12 years old. Think of all the situations in which someone could have drugs on them in the presence of a child, and then think about going to prison. In fact, you would be guaranteed prison: A first offense carries a maximum penalty of five years, with the provision that at least 50 percent of it must be served.
This is exactly the kind of punitive measures Oklahoma voters just voted down.
Rep. Scott Biggs, the Republican behind the school zone push, justified undoing what the voters just did with the offensive and patronizing line being used by lawmakers in other states: The voters were too stupid to realize what they actually voted for.
Here’s what he had to say in a KFOR interview:
“After hearing from my constituents after the election, I believe there is a large group of voters that didn’t understand that this state question would essentially decriminalize drugs in schools, parks and playgrounds,” said Biggs. “I’m all for cleaning up our books to have a more efficient justice system but not at the expense of our children.”
Keep in mind that drug sales is still a felony—and also note that a misdemeanor penalty is not decriminalization. In fact, in no way or form does a misdemeanor crime qualify as decriminalization—it still involves an arrest, a prosecution, a court date and potential jail time.
Either Biggs is high, or he has no idea what law he just introduced.
It would take a staggering misunderstanding of the situation to support such a swift return to the bad old days. And horrifyingly, school superintendents, whose job is to impart the ability to think upon young minds, are on board.
Mike Martin is superintendent of public schools in the community of Paul Valley. Earlier this year, one of his schools went on lockdown “due to a [sic] drug bust in that neighborhood,” as he told the Miami (Okla.) News Record. That’s only the beginning. Unless this law that has barely had time to take force is repealed and replaced with something far more punitive—well, take it away, Mike.
“Drug dealers know schools are off -limits and carry greater penalties,” he told the News-Record. “Without this provision, drug dealers could set up shop and openly recruit our most vulnerable, our children.”
“We must protect the children entrusted to our care,” he added. “We must keep our schools drug free.”
For the record, Oklahoma teens’ rates of drinking, smoking tobacco and marijuana use are similar to the national average—but like elsewhere in Trump country, the state’s teens are using prescription pain medication at a higher rate. Meanwhile, about half of the nation’s 1.5 million prison inmates are parents, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
So the drugs-in-schools bus has long left the station. But yes, the drug war keeps children safe—from their parents.
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