SAN FRANCISCO -- San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon doesn't mince words when it comes to the war on drugs.
"It has been a failure," he told The Huffington Post. "It hasn't reduced drug use in any significant way. It's not good public policy. It hasn't worked."
Gascon made his comments in the wake of a drug reform panel discussion at the San Francisco Public Library, during which he expressed similar sentiments. The district attorney was one of the chief supporters of a California measure that would have reduced the punishment for possessing small amounts of drugs from a felony to a misdemeanor.
Although a recent poll revealed 70 percent of California voters support lighter penalties for personal drug use, the legislation, sponsored by State Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), failed to pass before the deadline last week.
The Huffington Post reported last month:
SB 1506 would reduce the penalty for personal drug possession under state law from a felony to a misdemeanor, punishable by no more than one year behind bars, in addition to fines and probation.
Possession of an ounce or less of marijuana was reclassified in 2010 from a misdemeanor to an infraction under then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, but personal use of other drugs such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines can still mean up to three years behind bars.
Despite the bill's defeat, Leno, Gascon and their counterparts have vowed to continue their fight. "The final vote was disappointing, but often times these kinds of efforts take more than one attempt," Leno told HuffPost. "I'm very committed to making this change in state law."
According to Gascon, charging those convicted of drug possession for personal use with a felony can have a tremendously negative impact, especially on poor and minority populations. "We have entire communities where the male figures have been in and out of prison," he said. "This bill would have been a good way to start unwinding some of those inequities."
Leno also explained that his measure would have helped address California's prison overcrowding by reducing said population by more than 2,000 individuals. The Legislative Analyst's office estimated that it would have saved the state an estimated $64.4 million annually.
Leno also pointed to the 13 other states that charge misdemeanors instead of felonies for simple possession crimes. "The results are too compelling to ignore," he said. "Lower rates of drug use and violent crimes as a result of drug treatment instead of incarceration...I believe this is the future for California."
But other state lawmakers aren't convinced. Sen. Ted Gaines (R-Roseville) argued that drug possession is a gateway to other crimes.
"With bills like this I can see Amsterdam from the Capitol front porch," added Sen. Doug La Malfa (R-Richvale).