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Proposed bill gives prosecutors 'wobble' room for drug possession cases

Mark Leno, California Senate 3rd District (D-San Francisco).
Mark Leno, California Senate 3rd District (D-San Francisco).
The San Francisco Sentinel

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Last year, State Senator Mark Leno’s proposed bill to make simple possession of drugs such as heroin, cocaine and meth a misdemeanor was shot down by the Senate. Yesterday, Leno (D-San Francisco) came back with a toned-down version that would introduce prosecutorial discretion.  

Under SB 649, prosecutors would have the option to charge simple possession as either a misdemeanor or a felony, making the charge a “wobbler.”  Leno hopes that lessening the charge in some cases could help steer low-level offenders into rehabilitation, rather than incarceration, saving an estimated $159 million a year on state prisons.  He also believes that long sentences without treatment do nothing to end the cycle of drug use and recidivism. The bill is supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of California and the NAACP.  

A recent poll found that over 60 percent of Californians feel that simple possession of drugs should be a misdemeanor. The California District Attorneys Association, however, warns that the more lenient policy could send the message that “drugs are not as bad as they used to be.”  

Do you favor allowing prosecutors to offer drug offenders a lesser charge?  Do you fear it could worsen California’s drug problems?  Would you rather see less money spent on prisons, more going towards rehabilitation and treatment programs?

Kim Horiuchi , criminal justice and drug policy advocate, American Civil Liberties Union of California

Cory Salzillo, legislative director, California District Attorneys Association