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California lawmaker wants to reduce charges for drug possession

February 27, 2012 | 12:20 pm

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A state lawmaker proposed Monday that the charge for simple drug possession be revised from a felony to a misdemeanor, arguing it will help reduce overcrowding in California’s prisons.

State Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) said his SB 1506 is co-sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP and would follow the lead of 13 other states. The bill would apply to possession of cocaine, heroin, hashish, methamphetamine and amphetamines, among others.

“There is no evidence to suggest that long prison sentences deter or limit people from abusing drugs,” Leno said. "In fact, time behind bars and felony records often have horrible unintended consequences for people trying to overcome addiction because they are unlikely to receive drug treatment in prison and have few job prospects and educational opportunities when they leave."

The change would not apply to those involved in selling or making drugs, said Leno, who two years ago won approval of a law downgrading possession of an ounce or less of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction.

The latest proposal was criticized by John Redman, executive director of Californians for Drug Free Youth. "It sends a mixed message to our youth that drugs are not a big deal, that taking drugs is not a problem," Redman said. Added Carla Lowe, founder of Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana: "To have drug possession treated with a slap on the wrist like a ticket is unconscionable.''

But others said the proposal will save taxpayers millions of dollars. “By changing this offense from a felony to misdemeanor, we can still hold individuals accountable for their actions while taking a huge burden off of county jails and protecting access to drug treatment,’’ said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, senior policy advocate with the ACLU of California.

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-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

Photo: State Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) wants to change simple drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor.

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