Pubdate: Thu, 28 Feb 2013
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2013 Los Angeles Times
Author: Patrick McGreevy


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 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 removed 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.
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