New law would limit drug charges for possession

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) A new law passed by the state legislature and awaiting approval by Gov. Jerry Brown seeks to change an existing law that allows prosecutors to charge drug offenders with transporting narcotics when the drugs are intended only for personal use.

Assembly Bill 721 aims to define the word "transport" to mean "transporting with the intent to sell."

Under the current law, prosecutors can charge people caught with drugs with transporting if they were walking with the drug or possessed the drug without a prescription.

"I voted against AB 721 because it was going to allow drug dealers an out, and I don't think they deserve a slap on the wrist," said Assemblyman Rudy Salas, who voted against the bill.

An official from the Kern County District Attorney's office said the office tries to charge transportation only when there is an intent to sell, but it has in the past prosecuted people with transporting when the drug possession was for personal use.

The official added that the new law would change how some drug offenders are charged, but not necessarily change how they are sentenced, as prison overcrowding has led to less severe sentences.

But Los Angeles-based Assemblyman Steven Bradford said the law is intended to make the prosecution of drug possession less discriminatory.

"To charge a 16-year-old because he has an ounce of marijuana and he's on a bicycle with trafficking versus someone who is driving down Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible Porsche, and he has an ounce of cocaine and he only gets simple possession," Bradford said, "I think it's discriminatory based on economics."