A New Weapon for the Drug War: Reality 

A New Weapon for the Drug War: Reality 
Posted by FoM on September 15, 2000 at 07:19:28 PT
By Dana Parsons
Source: Los Angeles Times
 It was an evening at Crystal Cathedral, now more than seven years ago, that sticks in my mind. About 200 people showed up to hear a succession of speakers, including judges, say that the nation's drug-enforcement laws were counterproductive. Although the term made people leery, talk of "decriminalization" hung in the air like pot at a Grateful Dead concert.   Then-Sheriff Brad Gates wasn't there, but he'd made his feelings known. He didn't want to hear that kind of talk. 
 And in truth, decriminalization talk in Orange County seemed to dissipate about as quickly as marijuana smoke in a summer breeze.   But there's a new sheriff in town by the name of Mike Carona. His conservative credentials seem fairly impeccable. But in ways that would have seemed foreign to his predecessor, Carona is willing to broaden the public conversation on how to handle drug offenders.   No, he's not talking decriminalization. But he's awaiting funding for a 64-bed pilot program that would take offenders out of jail--those whose criminal acts stemmed from drug dependency--and try to arrest that dependency.   What's most interesting to me is that the program wouldn't be limited only to those arrested on specific drug charges. Rather it would include those arrested for crimes--burglary, for example--that stemmed from their dependency.   It's hard to imagine Gates ever championing something like that.   Assistant Sheriff Rocky Hewitt, a 34-year veteran of law enforcement and a Gates loyalist who still heads the county's jail operations, thinks Carona is on to something.   Hewitt describes himself as a very conservative guy and a solid Republican. But, he says, he's also got some liberal views, one being that society isn't automatically helped by locking up for long prison terms people whose crimes are linked to drug use.   "I don't want more victims out there," Hewitt says. "I've seen too many victims of crime. If we can stop people from committing crimes, if they're doing so because of a drug habit, it's certainly worth the time, effort and money."   Gates concentrated his anti-drug efforts on young people but held little truck for adult offenders. Carona's "vision," Hewitt says, is to expand the notion of treatment to adults.   Here's why: Historically, the county's jail population (now at 5,000), includes between 60% and 75% who are there either for drug or drug-related offenses. If not for their dependency, Hewitt says flatly, they most likely wouldn't be in custody.   What About the Kids?   That's why treatment, if it works, has huge implications for society--both in sparing potential crime victims and for increasing the number of families headed by wage-earners instead of jailbirds.   I applaud Carona for his courage, but he's got at least one more tough decision to make. That involves what to do about juvenile drug arrests, particularly for marijuana possession.   A story in this week's Times noted that juvenile drug arrests in Orange County have risen 280% in the last 10 years. The arrest rate far outpaced those in Los Angeles County and the rest of the state, The Times reported.   Various voices in the criminal justice system asked whether those youngsters are getting the "treatment" they need. But the larger--and much tougher--question for Carona and his inner circle is whether arrest or diversion to treatment programs is needed at all.   In most cases, it isn't, according to the director of a national organization that wants to redefine drug policy in America.   "The first line out of any police chief or sheriff's mouth is that 'we in law enforcement are in this together with treatment and prevention,' " said Ethan Nadelmann of the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation in New York. "The people who break out are the ones who say, 'This is ridiculous; we should stop arresting these people.' "   Statistics vary, but Nadelmann said studies indicate 50% of high school seniors have smoked a joint. "Now what happens?" he asks. "A small minority of them get caught, either because they were silly, unlucky, foolish or careless. For that unlucky minority, we're going to send them to intensive programs for them and their parents? That's a farce. Fifty percent of high school seniors require treatment programs with their parents? Think how ludicrous that is."   Nadelmann isn't talking about decriminalizing drug possession. Nor does he expect law enforcement agencies to announce they're relaxing anti-drug policies. His ideal scenario would have police chiefs and sheriffs passing the word to their cops and deputies not to bust every teenager caught smoking pot.   Hewitt said officers already use discretion. Orange County's arrest numbers, however, suggest they're still plenty busy.   A complicated issue, to be sure.   From all indications, Orange County has a sheriff willing to tackle it.   Who knows, maybe it's time to convene again at Crystal Cathedral.   Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by e-mail to: dana.parsons latimes.comPublished: September 15, 2000Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)Copyright: 2000 Los Angeles TimesContact: letters latimes.comAddress: Times Mirror SquareLos Angeles, CA 90053Fax: (213) 237-4712Website: Articles & Web Site:TLC - DPF O.C. Teen Drug Arrests Soar; Treatment Lags Drug Arrests Tripled in 1998
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Comment #1 posted by schmeff on September 15, 2000 at 10:19:21 PT
The discretion of the police...
Nadelmann is usually a pretty sane voice for drug law reform, but in this case, a policy that unofficially passed "the word to their cops and deputies not to" ...destroy the lives of every teenager (or adult) at the officer's discretion is pretty much the paradigm that we have now.If we continue to allow our government the power to criminalize the substances we put into our bodies, it will have the power to criminalize the thoughts we put into our heads. The "laws" and precedents are already in place, and technology continues apace. 
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