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March 13, 2008 - Drug Policy Alliance (US)

NORA: Our Most Important Legislation Ever

By Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director, Drug Policy Alliance

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

I am excited to announce that the Drug Policy Alliance Network (DPA's lobbying arm) is sponsoring a ballot measure in California that represents the biggest sentencing and prison reform in United States history.

The Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act (NORA) is unprecedented in scope and magnitude. It will transform California's dysfunctional, $10-billion-a-year prison system, reversing its rampant and costly expansion.

NORA will, within just a few years, reduce by tens of thousands the number of people unjustly and unnecessarily incarcerated, while maintaining public safety. At the same time, it will provide a comprehensive model for a public health approach to substance use.

Success in California will transform the drug policy reform landscape nationwide!

At a time when one in 100 adult Americans is in prison, California faces a prison overcrowding crisis that may be the worst in the nation. The system is at 175% of capacity. This is due in large part to excessive incarceration of nonviolent offenders, many of whom are drug law violators.

Overcrowding has been exacerbated by the state's failure to provide meaningful recidivism-reduction programs, including addiction treatment and other rehabilitation services.

NORA will change that. First, the measure builds on California's successful treatment-instead-of-incarceration program, Proposition 36. That law, which DPA Network helped to write and pass in November 2000, generated more than $1.5 billion in net saving in just seven years, reduced the number of nonviolent drug law offenders behind bars, and was not associated with any increase in crime.

Tens of thousands of additional nonviolent offenders would qualify for similar diversion programs under NORA, dramatically reducing the number of people unnecessarily locked up while decreasing the likelihood of recidivism.

The measure would also make low-level marijuana possession an infraction -- equivalent to a traffic ticket -- rather than a misdemeanor, a sentencing change that could affect 40,000 people a year and conserve millions of dollars in court resources for other, more serious cases.

To further help young people struggling with substance abuse, NORA provides dedicated funding of about $65 million per year to build a system of care that would offer treatment to at-risk youth.

Besides helping youth and people who have been arrested for nonviolent drug offenses, NORA would dramatically expand rehabilitation services for people in prison and on parole, and prohibit the return to prison of nonviolent offenders who commit minor violations of parole.

Spending on these programs, which are proven to reduce crime and recidivism, will be more than paid for by reductions in prison and parole costs. NORA is projected to save at least $2.5 billion on future prison construction costs, too, by rendering new prisons unnecessary.

This comprehensive and cost-effective reform package, with a focus on a public health approach to substance use problems, would do more than benefit California -- it would serve as a model for states across the country.

Years of research, experience and insight went into the drafting of the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act. Daniel Abrahamson, DPA Network's director of legal affairs and co-author of the initiative, led the collaborative effort. DPA Network thanks the many individuals and agencies who worked with us on its creation, particularly the Campaign for New Drug Policies, co-sponsor of the measure with DPA Network.

We encourage all reformers to learn about and support the measure by visiting DPA Network's website at:, or by contacting Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, DPA Network's Southern California regional director, at

Sincerely, Ethan Nadelmann

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