Charging that the "war on drugs’’ has failed, state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) has introduced legislation that would allow prosecutors to file misdemeanor instead of 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 NAACP in announcing the legislation, which he predicted could save up to $200 million a year by avoiding having to keep 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, a majority the state Senate, including some Democrats, voted to reject a Leno bill that would have made simple possession of cocaine, heroin and meth a misdemeanor, after law enforcement groups said it took away a tool in 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, making it harder to get jobs and housing, Leno said.