California lawmakers are considering a proposed bill that would make certain possessory drug offenses a misdemeanor instead of a felony level crime in the state. The bill was debated this week by the Senate Public Safety Committee, which voted 4-2 in favor of the measure. The bill proposes to reduce personal drug possession crimes involving heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine from felony offenses to misdemeanor offenses.

Four of the panel members voted to approve the bill, which would still need approval from the full California Senate and the State Assembly before it would be put before the governor for his signature.

The bill has the support of a District Attorney from San Francisco, who says that imposing long prison sentences for Californians convicted for personal drug possession offenses creates a "vicious cycle that does further public safety." However, the California District Attorneys Association does not share that view, as the association opposes the bill.

The overall position of the DA association is shared by the California State Sheriff's Association. The two groups believe that reducing drug possession offenses to the misdemeanor level may lead to an increase in future property crimes and violence.

In support of the measure, a state senator from San Francisco says drug users who get treatment are actually less likely to commit future crimes than those who serve long prison sentences for possessory offenses. Before the committee held its vote Tuesday, the San Francisco Senator told the panel Tuesday that, ""Without this bill they are not going to get treatment." He agrees with the San Francisco DA that long sentences behind bars are not doing any good for California.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP are in favor of the California drug crimes bill that would bring California in line with 13 other states that have reduced possession crimes to the misdemeanor level, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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