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New legislation may change state drug laws

In California, drug crimes come with harsh penalties. With a growing prison population and shrinking state budgets, however, some legislators are beginning to rethink the laws. In fact, one California state senator is proposing a law that will allow a prosecutor the discretion to charge certain drug crimes, such as possession, as a misdemeanor. This, however, will not affect certain other crimes like drug trafficking.

According to the San Francisco Democrat proposing the legislation, current drug possession laws are unfair, often targeting the young, the poor and the disenfranchised. Furthermore, once an individual is arrested and charged with a drug crime, whether it is a federal drug crime or a state drug crime, they now have to disclose their felony status, which can box them in, making it difficult to find housing and a job, thereby creating a horrible cycle.

With the exception of marijuana, which is already treated as an infraction in California, getting arrested for possession of most illegal substances in California is treated as a felony. Under the new law, proponents hope to minimize the devastating effect of such penalties by allowing prosecutors more freedom. Another major selling point is that reducing the charges could save the state nearly $160 million in court, incarcerations and parole expenses.

Drug crimes are governed under both state and federal drug laws. Therefore, despite the change in the state laws, individuals convicted of federal drug crimes will not have the benefit of the proposed changes. Therefore, to better understand the difference in sentencing between federal drug charges and state drug charges it is important to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney who practices within the state of California.

Source: ABC7, "Hard drug possession charges may change in CA," Nannette Miranda, Feb. 27, 2013

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