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Assembly Considers New Drug Sentencing Bill

Aired 6/13/13 on KPBS News.

Prosecutors would have the discretion to charge people arrested for simple drug possession with a misdemeanor under a bill making its way through the California Assembly.

— A bill that would give prosecutors the flexibility to charge drug possession as a misdemeanor is moving through the state assembly. Supporters call it common sense reform.

Possession of heroin or cocaine carries a mandatory felony charge in California. The bill would give prosecutors the option of reducing that charge to a misdemeanor.

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia treat drug possession as a misdemeanor.

The California District Attorneys Association argues minimizing the consequences of addictive behavior doesn't make it less destructive. But Margaret Dooley-Samuli, senior policy advocate with the American Civil Liberties Union in San Diego said the current system is a failure.

"If harsh penalties were going to solve our drug problems, we would be rid of them by now," she said. "Lengthy jail sentences are not a good use of limited public safety resources."

Dooley-Samuli said the bill would allow counties to reduce jail spending and invest in drug treatment.

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