California lawmakers are considering a proposal that would reduce specific drug possession charges involving heroin, methamphetamine or cocaine, to a misdemeanor in the state. Most Californians know that under current law, drug possession charges related to meth, coke and heroin are felony level offenses that can carry significant exposure to time behind bars.

The Senate Public Safety Committee voted Tuesday 4-2 to approve the measure that seeks to reduce the drug crimes to misdemeanor level offenses. Those voting for the measure reportedly say that drug treatment programs are a better option than long prison sentences for the drug possession offenses.

One of the sponsors and, at least on California District Attorney, have publicly stated that long prison sentences for people convicted of personal possessory drug offenses essentially do not do anyone any good. However, law enforcement and the California District Attorneys Association may see things differently.

The association of prosecutors in the state and the California State Sheriffs’ Association oppose the measure, essentially speculating that reducing jail exposure for drug possession will lead to an increase in property crimes and violence. Some of the dispute appears to center on drug treatment.

On the on hand, a California State Senator who supports the bill says that drug users who get treatment are less likely to commit other crimes than those sent away to prison for lengthy sentences. He says that, “Without this bill they are not going to get treatment.”

A Senator from San Diego, who voted against the bill, says that lengthy prison sentences for personal possession charges may act as “a hammer” to force drug treatment programs and fears that losing that “hammer” may lead to a lack of compliance.

Based upon the report of the arguments in the Los Angeles Times, it appears that those opposed to the proposed measure seem to argue that potential future non-compliance with treatment programs for drug possession justifies a lengthy prison sentence in California’s overcrowded prisons for a current conviction to avoid speculative future allegations of yet uncommitted and uncharged crimes that are not drug-related offenses.

The Senate panel approved the measure Tuesday–the bill still needs the approval of the full Senate and the Assembly to reach the governor’s desk.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Senate panel supports lesser penalties for heroin, meth possession,” Patrick McGreevy, April 17, 2012