Criminal Justice

Senate Bill 421 would bring clarity, consistency to drug laws

March 1, 2019

Kaitlyn Finley

Legislation sponsored by state Senators Stephanie Bice (R-Oklahoma City) and George Young (D-Oklahoma City) seeks to standardize select Oklahoma drug possession laws and reduce the maximum sentences for those convicted of certain drug-related crimes.

Senate Bill 421 would amend Oklahoma’s Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Act to define drug possession with the intent to distribute. Current Oklahoma law is vague about what factors must be present for this charge. This has raised concerns about inconsistent sentencing across Oklahoma’s counties.

New tests to determine whether someone was committing the crime of possessing drugs with the intent to distribute them would include whether the person had the means to weigh the drugs, possessed a firearm, constructed hidden compartments in a vehicle, or had large amounts of cash. The legislation stipulates at least three of seven criteria mentioned in the bill must be present.

In addition to standardizing the factors necessary for this charge, the legislation also seeks to reduce the maximum prison sentence for those convicted for drug possession in Oklahoma. For example, SB 421 would reduce the maximum prison sentence from seven to three years for those convicted of possessing and distributing Schedule I or II drugs (except for marijuana). Further details for reduced sentencing and reduced maximum fines for transporting and manufacturing drugs can be found in the bill here.

Oklahoma’s incarceration rate is currently higher than all other states. Reforms like SB 421 would help reduce Oklahoma’s reliance on incarceration as well as inconsistencies in who goes to prison. Oklahoma’s House of Representatives is considering similar legislation (House Bill 1100) by state Rep. Robert Manger (R-Choctaw).

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