Proposal would rewrite Utah drug laws in a major way

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Lawmakers are discussing a huge change in how Utah prosecutes drug offenses.

In a meeting on prison relocation Wednesday, the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice unveiled a sweeping series of criminal justice reforms. The biggest change would be reducing simple drug possession from a third-degree felony, to a class A misdemeanor.

"This is not final, but the bottom line is we need to find ways to get more drug possession offenders out of prison into community treatment programs that are appropriate and will address their specific needs," said Ron Gordon, the executive director of CCJJ.

Other proposals including reclassifying drug dealing to a third-degree felony and reworking so-called "Drug Free Zones" to focus more on crimes when children are present or where children would be.

Non-violent offenders would also see two to four months off their sentences, and more efforts would be focused on community-based resources, such as treatment. Some class B misdemeanors would be reclassified as class C misdemeanors, and many traffic offenses would become infractions.

Prosecutors and law enforcement expressed some reluctance with the proposed changes, Gordon said. Prosecutors wanted more discretion to level charges and law enforcement was skeptical of whether it would work.

"We actually agree that significant reductions are in order, but we are very concerned that reducing the penalty for possession of hard drugs such as heroin and methamphetamines to a class A misdemeanor will not provide enough incentive for the defendant to resolve the case and follow through with treatment," Paul Boyden of the Statewide Association of Prosecutors told FOX 13 in an email.

"We don’t disagree with the basic concept, we just think that too much of a cut may be counterproductive."

Boydon said they were preparing a counter-proposal to present to the CCJJ next month. The ACLU of Utah said the changes did not go far enough for them -- but called it "a good start."

"We're not talking decriminalization or anything like that," said Anna Brower, the public policy advocate for the ACLU of Utah. "We're still treating a public health issue, drug and substance abuse, as a criminal justice issue."

Some lawmakers appeared stunned, but when told that 97-percent of people would avert prison under research, they became supportive.

"This is a pretty heavy lift," said Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, who called the idea "exciting."

CCJJ acknowledged it was a significant policy change. The idea had the backing of Utah Dept. of Corrections Executive Director Rollin Cook, who told FOX 13 he estimates as much as 25-percent of the prison population is there on drug possession.

"To be honest, I'm really excited about this possibility. I think it's an opportunity for us to get the right people incarcerated, but also get the people who need treatment into systems in the community who can better serve them," he said.

The proposal is expected to go before the full legislature in January.


  • Bob 2.0

    Makes sense, most of the LDS are pill or heroin addicts… The church must have paid someone off at capital hill again. I cannot buy beer, but they can pop pills… Hypocrite much?

      • Miles

        Obviously you are the type that would rather ignore the research and live in your own sanctimonious little bubble than to see reality.
        It’s expensive to house prisoners. You pay for it with your taxes. That money could be better spent on treatment.
        Prison is not treatment. Nor is it a good environment for solving drug problems.
        They can offend behind bars because drugs are absolutely available in prison
        Even if an addict gets treatment and manages to kick the addiction, having a felony on their record prevents them from bettering their life by limiting job options severely.

      • Tony Aroma

        By “offend” I assume you mean engage in a behavior which you find offensive but in no way harms you or anyone else, except arguably the “offender”.

      • bob 2.0

        We cannot claim to live in a “free country” when we incarcerate adults for behavior that doesn’t affect anyone else.

        Adult citizens should have the right to do whatever they wish to their own bodies, provided no one else is forced to deal with the consequences of their choices. Incarcerate people who drive while on drugs, or whose drug use leads to child abuse, etc. In other words, punish the actual CRIMES. Short of that, leave citizens alone.

        Not one penny of tax money should ever be spent on the treatment of drug addiction, and people should be required to pass a drug test before being eligible for public assistance.

        Free to choose, and free from the choices of others.

  • hapy fish

    This is Happening because after votes in November there is a VERY good chance we are adding Alaska, Oregon and Washington D.C to the list of states that have already legalized Marijuana for recreational use, also if Florida legalizes medical marijuana in Nov by default 51% of America will have medical/decriminalized marijuana…..This is the next hot button topic in America and the Feds are getting ready to hop on the legalization bus.

      • Ed Kociela

        It depends. Should someone get on the state’s rights bandwagon, it could happen, purely as a matter of politics and opposition to the federal government.

      • Mike Hunt

        You and your boyfriend aren’t LDS so why do you care what they like or don’t like? Perhaps there is something else about them that rubs you the wrong way.

      • bob 2.0

        All 50 states regulate alcohol. Utah is nowhere near the most restrictive. Some of our liquor laws are odd, but you can get as drunk in Utah as you like, Quite legally.

        Rubes like Other Bob 2.0 need to venture outside this state once in a while and take a look around.

      • The religious regime of Utah

        I have been outside Utah, I am from Colorado here for the wife’s school. There I can buy cold beer. I can buy more than 10 different brands and styles. They have private liquor stores with realistic hours and are open on Sundays. I do not have to drive 10 miles to get to a liquor store. I do not feel like a criminal or a child when I am buying liquor there. The prices are more lower. They have happy happy hours. They have real bars. There are no “Zion curtains”. They have a large beer festival without any worry of getting a permit. The Colorado alcohol regulators so not consult any churches before make their rules like the ones here do. Tell me again how Utah does not have very restrictive liquor laws?

      • The religious regime of Utah

        Also, the other states you refer to are in the bible belt, imagine that. More religions running governments..

  • Gino

    I think Itll be a good thing, I got out a few months ago and draper is over crowded with people who had a simple possession. I’m not sayin I support people who deal drugs but I don’t agree with putting people away for that wen there are worse people who should be locked up for worse crimes.

    • Gino

      To bob and miles, they have a treatment program in ther called conquest , y’all should do some research before babbling like retracts about some stuff u have no knowledge about such as what the money is used for, just sayin cuz I am a drug addict and just completed the conquest programs before being released.

  • Chad

    I wish it would drop past offenses down as well. I have one charge and its impossible to find a decent job. No one will give me a chance.

  • Tony Aroma

    Simple possession is a felony in Utah!?!?! How insane/horrible/inhumane is that? Why am I not surprised that prosecutors and police are opposed to reforming the current horrendous situation?

  • David

    It’s great, I hope the change is made. We forget how much of our tax money goes in to keeping a criminal in prison; then, they get out and do the same. Specially when dealing with juveniles. We need to teach them that it is bad for them and it is a crime otherwise they will spend most of their life from prison to prison. One last point isn’t prisons a place where gangs and other groups recruit new members? Yet another reason why they should not go to jail.

  • R J

    I agree, sometimes they need treatment not prison. Yes the prison can help with them getting clean while they are in, but what happens when they leave. It becomes a revolving door for a lot of them. There really needs to be programs to help them and their family. And keeping them in jail tell they finish the drug treatment is not always the best, because they don’t have a job, family is distant from them so they just go back to what they knew when they went in. And what jobs can they get when they get out? And for the women there is not enough help for them.

  • bob 2.0

    It’s funny how the Hate Squad continues to insist that “Utah’s Theocracy”, those evil Mormons, are keeping them from their favorite drugs, even as the story they’re commenting on is about Utah reducing drug possession to a misdemeanor……which would make Utah one of the more liberal states in the Union in this regard.

    But hate doesn’t have to make sense.

  • Anne A.

    I am so thankful for this man Ron Gordon for this new law so these innocent people who made some wrong choices in their lives can get some help and be rehabilitated to go on with their lives and being with their families. Thank You, Ron Gordon for this. I will remember in the election to vote for you again too..You are great :)

    • all of the bobs

      I disagree. People who take drugs are not innocent. They are guilty of a crime. It is not that hard to not take drugs…

      • analogismos

        Actually, it can be really damned hard (and even dangerous) for some people to not take drugs.
        But of course you must already know this as you have clearly walked in everyone’s’ shoes and understand every circumstance and every variable that has gone into every decision everyone else has ever made.

  • Finny Wiggen

    I agree with lowering the consequences for taking drugs. However, I do not agree with lowering the consequences of dealing drugs. Dealers have no appreciation nor concern for the lives that they destroy.

    Lower or eliminate criminal charges against those who consume, and refocus efforts on recovery. But prosecute dealers as aggressively as possible.

    • bob

      No tax money should ever be used for “recovery.” It’s pure evil to enslave taxpayers and force them to “fix” problems that other people choose to inflict upon themselves.

      A free society is free to do as it chooses, and free FROM the choices of others.

    • analogismos

      because profit
      also because lawmakers consider themselves to be a better kind of person than someone who does drugs.

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