California Gov. Jerry Brown acting on legislation earlier in the week.… (Lenny Ignelzi / AP )
SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday vetoed legislation that would have allowed prosecutors to charge possession of heroin, cocaine and other hard drugs as a misdemeanor rather than a felony.
Brown said the bill, which was opposed by law enforcement and prosecutors, was premature because the state is about to conduct a comprehensive review of the sentencing structure for all crimes.
“We will do so with the full participation of all necessary parties, including law enforcement, courts and treatment providers,” Brown wrote in his veto message. “That will be the appropriate time to evaluate our existing drug laws.”
Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) introduced the bill, saying 13 other states have similar laws and it will save the state and counties incarceration costs so more can be spent providing the drug users with rehabilitation programs.
”It’s quite surprising that the governor would veto a modest attempt at sentencing reform in light of our prison overcrowding crisis,” Leno said, noting there currently are more than 4,100 inmates in state prison for simple possession convictions.
But, SB 649 is opposed as a threat to public safety by law enforcement groups including the California State Sheriffs Assn., California Police Chiefs Assn. and California District Attorneys Assn.
The bill would remove an incentive for those convicted of possession to voluntarily enter drug treatment if they only are charged with a misdemeanor, because the full jails mean little or no time behind bars, law enforcement officials said.
The veto drew criticism from Kim Horiuchi, a drug policy attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of California.
The governer “has thwarted the will of the voters and their elected representatives by rejecting a modest reform that would have helped end mass incarceration in this state,” Horiuchi said.
The veto bucked a trend in California of easing drug laws, going back to when voters in 1996 made it the first state to allow medical marijuana use.
In 2010, then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger approved legislation downgrading possession of an ounce or less of marijuana for non-medical use from a misdemeanor to an infraction.
And earlier this week, Brown approved a change in the state's drug trafficking law that could ease penalties for those caught with drugs meant for personal use.
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