California Lawmakers Want To Increase Penalties For Possessing Date-Rape Drugs

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Feb 23 (Reuters) - Illegal possession of so-called date-rape drugs would become a potential felony under a bill in California to reverse what supporters say is an unintended consequence of a voter-approved law reducing penalties for non-violent crimes.

The measure by Republican Tom Lackey, set to be heard by the Assembly Public Safety Committee next month, would allow prosecutors the discretion to charge people in illegal possession of the drugs Rohypnol, GHB and ketamine with either a felony or a misdemeanor.

"Date rape drugs are tools in the hand of predators and they're not a recreational drug," said Lackey.

The former California Highway Patrol sergeant said on Monday he had gathered a bipartisan team of lawmakers to push the bill. Democrat Cathleen Galgiani is backing a similar measure in the state senate.

The three prescription sedatives, which can be used in surgery, have been implicated in sexual assaults. Attackers trick victims into taking the narcotics, sometimes by slipping them into drinks. The victims are then rendered unconscious or nearly so, and can more easily be assaulted.

Prosecutors once had the ability to charge defendants with a felony for possessing the three drugs, but that changed after voters passed Proposition 47 in last November's election.

The ballot measure, part of a broader effort to reduce sentences for some non-violent and drug-related crimes, reduced numerous drug possession charges to misdemeanors from felonies.

"We're not trying to unravel Proposition 47," Lackey said. "We believe this was one of the pieces of Proposition 47 that was unintended in the mind of the voter."

Since the proposition was voter-approved, undoing part of it would require an election.

If Lackey's bill is passed by the Legislature and signed by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, it will go before voters in November 2016.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Peter Cooney)



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