CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — A state panel on the justice system is making a case to reduce criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of illegal narcotics.
The Nevada Appeal reports the Nevada Commission on the Administration of Justice indicated during a meeting in Carson City last week it plans to propose state lawmakers change felony offenses to misdemeanors next year for possession of small amounts of drugs, including heroine, methamphetamine and cocaine.
Carson District Judge Jim Wilson told the panel studying sentencing in Nevada that drug addiction is a disease and putting addicts in prison makes no sense.
He said the law should be changed to make first and second offense drug possession convictions misdemeanors and the third offense possibly a gross misdemeanor because it would take more than one try for the person to beat the problem.
Nevada Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty agreed with Wilson that it's a waste of taxpayer money to house addicts in prison.
"I think Judge Wilson's sentiments are shared by most drug court judges," he said.
Chuck Callaway of the Metropolitan Police Department in Las Vegas expressed concern without the threat of felony convictions, defendants might not get help and treatment. But he said officers should have the discretion to issue citations in those types of cases instead of having to arrest people.
The panel was told by consultants from the Crime and Justice Institute that upward of 250 inmates a year are imprisoned in Nevada for failing probation on drug possession charges.
In addition, members are expected to seek some serious changes in Nevada's drug trafficking laws. They said the problem is the weight of the drug in someone's possession is the key to a trafficking charge instead of possession and, in Nevada, that weight for drugs such as heroin is just 4 grams.
Hardesty said when he was a trial judge in Washoe County, "there were way too many cases in which I was compelled to sentence someone to prison for trafficking when the circumstances of the case just didn't warrant it."
The issues will be taken up for a formal vote at the commission's next meeting on Dec. 19.
Information from: Nevada Appeal, http://www.nevadaappeal.com