California Senate Bill to Reduce Possession Drug Charges to Misdemeanor (CA Senate Bill 649)

An important change is coming in California law concerning sentencing for drug charges. The new bill (Senate Bill 649), sponsored by Senator Mark Leno has made its way through the state Assembly with a tight margin (41-30).  What will happen when it arrives on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk is, as of yet, unknown.

SB 649 would make the possession of illegal drugs (like cocaine and heroin) a misdemeanor.  Of course, this also means changes in sentencing, a 3-year felony sentence for possession would become a 1-year term.  Leno’s position is clear: he has argued for several years now that there are far too many men and women, 4,000 in the California prison system because of what should be a minor possession charge instead of a felony.

This isn’t the first time that Leno has tried to get a bill like this passed; he met with a good bit of opposition last year when he authored a very similar bill.  Who was against it?  Police, other law enforcement agencies, and prosecutors of every kind came out of the woodwork in order to express their disapproval of the measure.

It is true, if approved by the governor, this bill will mean a big change in the way that simple possession charges are prosecuted and in how sentencing goes.  Leno and his supporters maintain that this is a positive and progressive move for the state of California. Certainly, there seems to be a great deal of support for such a change to the current law, if Governor Jerry Brown doesn’t veto it.