California may be changing its laws to make simple possession of most illegal drugs a "wobbler” — an offense that local prosecutors have the authority to charge as misdemeanors or felonies. California Senate Bill 649 (SB 649), which provides that the simple possession for personal use of cocaine, heroin, opium and other drugs may be charged as felony or misdemeanor, has passed the State Senate and Assembly and moves on to Governor Jerry Brown's desk for consideration.
Currently in California
Existing California law says that the possession of cocaine, heroin, opium, methamphetamine and other controlled substances that are not prescribed by a doctor is an automatic felony punishable by sixteen months, two or three years. California designates drugs into five schedules based on their danger and potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs have the strongest restrictions and penalties.
Why change the drug possession law in California?
Senator Mark Leno, the author of SB 649, claims that making simple drug possession offenses wobblers gives public prosecutors and judges greater flexibility in charging and sentencing non-violent drug offenders. Thirteen other states, the federal government and the District of Columbia already penalize simple drug possessors with misdemeanors. California's Legislative Analyst's Office projects that providing such sentencing flexibility could save $160 million each year.
Advocates for the bill argue that local jails are overcrowded and courts are taxed with too many cases of low-level drug offenders. Money spent on incarcerating basic drug offenders can be reallocated to more cost-efficient programs to combat addiction.
SB 649 only designates simple drug possession offenses as wobblers and does not affect penalties for drug sales, manufacturing and trafficking. Recent polls showed that 75 percent of Californians, despite party affiliation, supports changing the penalties for simple drug possession offenses.
If you or a loved one are facing charges of drug possession, contact an experienced San Jose criminal defense lawyer who will guide you through the entire process.