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State law would go easier on people who are busted for carrying illegal drugs for personal use under a bill approved by the California Senate today.

Assembly Bill 721 changes the definition of "transporting" a drug to mean transporting it for sale, eliminating an additional charge for someone who might otherwise only be charged with drug possession.

"If you're in possession of a drug and you're walking down the street, you could be charged with transporting a drug even though your 'transporting' is just walking," said Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, as he presented the bill on the Senate floor.

The bill by Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, would not make it harder to prosecute drug dealers, Wright said, who would still be charged with transporting illegal drugs for sale.

"It simply says that... walking down the street does not qualify as transporting," Wright said.

"What this bill is intended to fix is that someone who would have been charged with simple possession, because their quantity was small, not end up with transportation for sale because (prosecutors) wanted to add charges."

Republicans argued against the bill, saying it would be too soft on criminals.

"This bill gives you a greater chance to get away with it or have it go easy on you," said Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber. "It is not a step in the right direction."

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, countered that the bill could help chip away at the problem of crowding in California prisons.

"We're talking about a universe of people who will still be charged with one or more felonies. They will likely be going to state prison," Leno said. "The question is, do we want them to take up limited bed space for two or three years, or five or ten or 15 years?"

The state Senate passed the bill on a vote of 24-15. It now heads back to the Assembly for a concurrence vote before heading to Gov. Jerry Brown.

PHOTO: Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, in the Assembly chambers in March 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua



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