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Santa Clara County DA Will No Longer Charge Minor Drug Possession Offenses

SAN JOSE (KPIX) -- The Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office announced Friday it will stop prosecuting people for minor drug offenses.

It is a major policy shift that will treat certain drug offenses as more of a health issue than a criminal one.

"We are drawing a line between public health and public safety," said Brian Buckelew, a Supervising Deputy District Attorney.

The DA says it will no longer prosecute low-level drug possession cases for a first and second time offenders, but a third time offense within a year will be prosecuted.

"If there's no other criminality, if someone is arrested with a meth pipe, or personal use methamphetamine, that person needs treatment," explained Buckelew. "But should that person get treatment in the criminal justice system at great expense to the taxpayers? We have concluded they should not."

It's the first of it's kind policy change in California. And could keep 8 out of 10 -- or about 4,000
drug offenders in Santa Clara County -- out of the courts and jails and hopefully into voluntary treatment programs on the outside.

"People can get a higher degree of treatment without the stigma, without the conviction, without everything else," Buckelew said.

Activists were happy to hear the news, calling it long overdue.

"It's about time," said Rosie Chavez, an organizer with Silicon Valley Debug and the former director of a
residential treatment program.

Chavez says something like this could end a revolving door at the jail.

"That's awesome because somebody could lose their job, lose their apartment over a bust and their addiction," said Chavez.

The policy will be formally adopted over the next two months.

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