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California bill would allow lesser charges for drug possession

Legislation proposed by Sen. Mark Leno would let prosecutors file misdemeanor charges in cases of simple possession of heroin, cocaine and other drugs.

February 27, 2013|By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times
  • State Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), shown during a legislative session in 2012, has introduced a bill that would let prosecutors file misdemeanor rather than felony charges in cases of simple possession of heroin, cocaine and other hard drugs. He said the measure would save as much as $200 million a year by keeping fewer offenders behind bars.
State Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), shown during a legislative session… (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated…)

SACRAMENTO — Saying the war on drugs has failed, state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) has proposed allowing prosecutors to file misdemeanor rather than felony charges in cases of simple possession of heroin, cocaine and other hard drugs.

Leno was joined Wednesday by representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union of California and the NAACP in announcing the legislation. He predicted it would save as much as $200 million a year by keeping fewer offenders behind bars.

"If we want safer communities, our collective goal for low-level drug offenders should be helping to ensure that they get the rehabilitation they need to successfully reenter their communities," Leno said. "Instead, we sentence them to long terms, offer them no treatment while incarcerated and release them back into our communities with few job prospects.''

Last year, the state Senate rejected a Leno bill that would have made simple possession of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine a misdemeanor after law enforcement groups said it would have taken away a tool for controlling the worst offenders.

The new bill would allow prosecutors to decide to charge simple possession as either a misdemeanor or felony. A felony conviction hampers people for life, Leno said, making it harder for them to get jobs and housing.

California District Attorneys Assn. spokesman Cory Salzillo voiced "concern about the state making a policy that says drugs are not as bad as they used to be." The group has not taken an official position on the new bill.

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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