Prop. 36 Backers Challenge Drug Laws

Prop. 36 Backers Challenge Drug Laws
Posted by FoM on October 02, 2000 at 08:03:45 PT
By Carolyn McMillan, Times Staff Writer
Source: Contra Costa Times 
The same folks who helped pass Proposition 215, the medical marijuana initiative, are again challenging California's drug laws, this time with a measure that would require drug treatment rather than prison for most nonviolent drug offenders. Under the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act, on the November ballot as Proposition 36, people convicted of being under the influence or of possessing illegal drugs for personal use would face probation and up to 18 months of mandatory drug treatment. Those convicted of selling or manufacturing drugs would not be eligible, nor would anyone who had been convicted of a violent felony within five years of the drug offense.
The initiative would appropriate $120 million a year in state funds to counties for drug treatment programs. Even with those costs, the California Legislative Analyst estimates it would produce an annual net savings to the state of $100 million to $150 million by diverting roughly 35,000 people per year from jail or prison.The measure has strong opposition from many in the criminal justice system, including Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Harlan Grossman and Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff, who contend the initiative will essentially decriminalize drug use, without ensuring that offenders stick with treatment. "It could be de facto legalization, with nobody getting treatment and more criminal conduct, because there are no consequences for using," Grossman said. "People will continue to use and abuse drugs, and other crimes will be committed."Many in the drug rehabilitation field disagree and say it's time for drug addiction to be treated like a disease rather than a crime."It's clear current policies are failing and that incarceration isn't helping the problem," said Kyle Moore, medical director at a Richmond substance abuse program that hosted a campaign event in support of Prop. 36 last week. "We need to use a carrot rather than a stick."Some clients from the Richmond clinic, which is run by Bay Area Addiction Research and Treatment, also stumped for the measure, arguing that incarceration feeds the problem of addiction."It's scary leaving the drug world," said Marilyn Roth, who has been in and out of methadone programs since the 1970s. "We have to reinvent our lives and that's not going to happen in jail. ... The first thing you have to do is get away from the criminal minds."The debate has drawn high-profile advocates on each side. Hollywood actor Martin Sheen has been speaking against the initiative, while much of the campaign money for Prop. 36 has come from a trio of wealthy businessmen who also supported the medical marijuana initiative. They including billionaire philanthropist George Soros of New York, University of Phoenix founder John Sperling and car insurance magnate Peter Lewis. By the end of June, the three men had together given about $1 million.Opponents, by contrast, had raised roughly $110,000, most of it from real estate mogul A.G. Spanos and the California Narcotic Officers Association."I look at it as a social experiment by an out-of-state billionaire," said Grossman, referring to Soros' involvement. "It's troubling to me that the criminal justice system could be turned on its ear because of that."Grossman serves as the judge for Contra Costa's drug court, part of a statewide program that allows some drug offenders to opt for court-supervised rehabilitation, drug treatment and probation rather than jail or prison time.He and some other opponents agree with Prop. 36 supporters that more drug treatment is needed, but say the initiative will have the opposite result."It's much preferable to have someone in treatment than in prison," said Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Jeff Rubin. "But what works are the elements of the drug court that won't take place under Prop. 36."Judges will no longer have the ability to impose immediate sanctions on someone who violates treatment guidelines, he said. Nor does the initiative set aside money to pay for drug testing.In Grossman's Friday morning drug court, for instance, offenders take a drug test. If it comes up positive, Grossman has the option of summarily sending them to jail for a few days as a "wake-up call." Prop. 36, by contrast, creates a cumbersome system in which alleged probation violations would have to be proven in court before a judge could consider imposing sanctions, Grossman said. Even then, a judge would first have to find that a defendant was "unamenable to treatment," before jail or prison could be imposed.The measure also contains provisions that specify that a drug offender who has gone through probation and treatment twice, be sentenced to 30 days in jail for additional offenses."That's for the rest of their lives," Rubin said. "You talk to a drug addict and they'll tell you 30 days in jail is a vacation."Opponents also contend that relatively minor drug offenses might clog the system, because defendants won't have any reason to plea bargain. If they go to trial, they might be acquitted; at most, they'll be sentenced to noncustodial drug treatment."You take away any downside to going to trial," Rubin said. The courts could become so swamped that cases are dismissed for not coming to trial soon enough, he said. Prosecutors, in turn, might simply decide not to bother charging people for drug possession.Proponents of Prop. 36 say that's an alarmist scenario developed by prosecutors and judges who think the initiative usurps their authority."The drug court judges are into the old school paradigm. They want to punish people and put them away," said Evan Kletter, chief operating officer of BAART, which runs 10 clinics in addition to the one in Richmond.He and other Prop. 36 supporters say that drug courts, while a step in the right direction, are inadequate to reach all the people who need treatment. They estimate that about 5 percent of eligible offenders are given the option of drug court.Contra Costa County's drug court, for instance, has only 41 participants."That's how limited it is," said Prop. 36 campaign manager Dave Fratello. The numbers are small because sentencing judges get to decide whether to offer drug court as an option to a convicted offender, he said."Judges have taken the lead in this area, and they write the rules for who gets in," Fratello said. "This (initiative) provides different rules: Everyone qualifies."He also disagreed that drug treatment won't work without court-supervised drug tests and jail sanctions. "It's a bias of the criminal justice system that you have to supervise people and that you have to punish them," Fratello said. "That's not the only effective way to do treatment."Note: The initiative would require drug treatment programs, not jail time, for nonviolent offenders, diminishing judges' power Source: Contra Costa Times (CA)Author: Carolyn McMillan, Times Staff WriterPublished: Monday, October 2, 2000 Copyright: 2000 Contra Costa Newspapers Inc.Address: 2640 Shadelands Drive, Walnut Creek, CA 94598Website: Articles & Web Sites:California Campaign For New Drug Policy 36 Could Change How Calif. Drug Laws Work Rethinks Drug War Strategy Like Proposal of Drug Treatment Articles - Proposition 36: 
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