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Lawmaker proposes misdemeanors for heroin, cocaine possession

February 27, 2013|By Patrick McGreevy

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.

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

A statewide poll by Tulchin Research in September found that 62% of Californians think simple possession of drugs should be a misdemeanor, according to Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, senior criminal justice and drug policy advocate for the ACLU of California.

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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