FILE - Federal prison in southern Colorado

A guard tower looms over a federal prison complex which houses a Supermax facility outside Florence, in southern Colorado. 

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday signed a drug sentencing reform bill that proponents say will ease prison overcrowding in the state.

House Bill 1263, which was passed on the last day of the legislative session earlier this month, makes several low-level drug possession penalties a misdemeanor rather than a felony. 

The legislation also helps to fund diversion and recovery programs in an attempt to steer people away from serving prison time.

The legislation found bipartisan support among Colorado’s legislators and groups across the political spectrum that work on criminal justice reform issues.

HB 1263 was co-sponsored by Reps. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, Shane Sandridge, R-Colorado Springs, and Sens. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, and Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins.

"We commend state lawmakers and Gov. Polis for enacting this thoughtful and vitally important reform of Colorado's drug policy," Christie Donner, executive director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, said in a statement. "It represents a major step toward treating drug use as a matter of public health rather than criminal justice in our state. Substance abuse and addiction are complex problems that cannot be solved by sending people to prison and saddling them with felony records."

The legislation allocates $1.8 million in funds for the creation of a substance abuse and diversion program grant.

“After HB19-1263 takes effect, possession of up to four grams of a schedule I or II drug will be classified as a level 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and up to two years of probation,” the coalition says. The legislation takes effect in March 2020.

A CCJRC study found a 123 percent increase in drug felony filings have since 2012.  

Regional Editor

Derek Draplin is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as an opinion producer at Forbes, and as a reporter at Michigan Capitol Confidential and The Detroit News. He’s also an editor at The Daily Caller.