The Oklahoma Senate passed a bill on March 11 that increases the penalties for those who use or sell drugs within 1,000 feet of a school. The measure has since been referred to the House of Representatives. Senate Bill 1674 was introduced to reverse parts of State Question 780, which reduced drug possession in Oklahoma from a felony to a misdemeanor. State Question 780 was approved by 58% of the electorate in 2016. The bill makes possessing illegal drugs near a school a felony once again.
The lawmaker behind Senate Bill 1674 says that Oklahoma residents may have not been aware that they were voting to end drug-free zones around schools when they supported State Question 780. Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors strongly opposed the measure. A bill was signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt in 2019 that made the provisions of State Question 780 retroactive, which led to the largest one-day release of prisoners in the history of the United States.
Senate Bill 1674 was opposed by advocacy groups that supported State Question 780 and want drug addiction to be treated as a public health and not a criminal issue. These groups point out that Oklahoma has a serious prison overcrowding problem, which would be made worse if prosecutors once again seek custodial sentences for individuals convicted of possessing illegal drugs. The Senate passed the bill with a 23-vote majority after a long and vigorous debate.
Individuals who use drugs like cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine are usually struggling with addiction, and experienced criminal defense attorneys would likely back measures that take this into account and reduce the penalties for minor drug charges. When their clients are accused of possessing drugs, attorneys may encourage prosecutors to consider alternatives to prison by citing mitigating factors and pointing out the nonviolent nature of the crime.