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Recovering Addict Says Felony Drug Charge Bill Would Help, Not Hurt

DENVER (CBS4) - A plan to drop drug charges from a felony to a misdemeanor is moving through the Colorado Legislature. The House Judiciary Committee approved the bill on Tuesday.

"A felony conviction comes with it a host of collateral consequences that stick with a person," said Hassan Latif.

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CBS4's Jeff Todd interviews Hassan Latif. (credit: CBS)

Advocates for the bill say a felony charge can keep people from finding housing or even a job. That was Latif's experience when he got out of prison.

"I started using at age five. And I didn't stop using until a year after my arrest," said Latif. "I'm a convicted felon, been home 13 years now after serving 18 years in Colorado. I'll forever have that tag on me."

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(credit: Hassan Latif)

Latif decided to use his opportunity to help others. He became a certified Addictions Councilor and wrote a book Never Going Back: 7 Steps to Staying Out of Prison. He also founded the Second Chance Center in Aurora, which helps people getting out of prison.

"We have a leg up where it concerns understanding what our folks have been through and what they're probably going to face in their challenges after incarceration," Latif said. "We have about 1,300 client visits a month. We have a recidivism rate over the last four years of under 10 percent."

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Rep. Leslie Herod (credit: CBS)

It's because of his experiences he's supporting House Bill 1263. Rep. Leslie Herod is leading the effort to change some small drug possession charges into misdemeanors. Advocates say it would help a few hundred people a year avoid prison time.

Some law enforcement agencies say they're worried about public safety.

"They think if you incarcerate someone with a drug problem that solves the problem. It really doesn't solve the problem, in fact, most times it probably aggravates it," Latif said. "This is the only disease, addiction that is still treated punitively."

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