by Phillip Smith
California state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) has introduced a bill that reduce the penalties for possession of controlled substance from a felony to a misdemeanor. The bill, Senate Bill 1506, would also eliminate felony penalties for hashish, removing from prosecutors the option of charges such offenses as felonies. Hash is currently a "wobbler," meaning it can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor.
The bill would apply not only to Schedule I drugs, such as heroin, LSD, and MDMA, but also Schedule II-V "narcotic" drugs, including prescription opioid pain relievers, such as Fentanyl and Oxycontin.
Under current California law, drug possession can garner a sentence of two or three years. The Leno bill would make possession a misdemeanor punishable by no more than a year in county jail.
Current law also requires a person who is convicted of a specified controlled substance offense to register with the law enforcement agency of a city, county, or city and county within 30 days of becoming a resident of that city, county, or city and county. The Leno bill would remove that requirement for those convicted of misdemeanor hashish possession.
While many people convicted of drug possession manage to avoid prison in California, thanks to probation or diversion to treatment, thousands of others do not. According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's 2009 report on prisoners and parolees (the latest available), of the more than 28,000 drug offenders imprisoned in the state, more than 10,000 were doing time for drug possession alone, and 51 for hash.
The bill, which was introduced last Friday, has yet to be assigned to a committee.