Waiting for Politicians to Catch Up and Lead 

Waiting for Politicians to Catch Up and Lead 
Posted by FoM on December 29, 2000 at 06:22:40 PT
By Alan W. Bock
Source: WorldNetDaily 
One of the most significant things California voters did this year -- perhaps the most significant when people look back on the year 2000 five or 10 years from now -- was to pass Proposition 36, which changed sentencing laws so most non-violent drug possession offenders will receive at least a couple of chances at probation and drug treatment before being put in prison, by a whopping 61-39 margin. 
Taken in conjunction with similar measures passed and decisions made in other states, it could represent a turning point in the country's approach to drug use and addiction. Add to California's action the passage of initiatives in other states. Medical marijuana initiatives were passed for the second time (though second for different reasons) in Colorado and Nevada. In Oregon and Utah measures to reform the asset-forfeiture laws, which had provided that in drug-related cases property could be seized without even a formal accusation, let alone a conviction, passed by big margins. Measure 8 in Massachusetts, similar to Prop. 36 but broader in scope, failed narrowly after a big-money campaign against it by law enforcement. A measure providing for full legalization of marijuana and amnesty for drug war prisoners, a true grassroots effort without any big-money out-of-state help, failed in Alaska, but got about 40 percent of the vote. All this activity comes in the context of medical marijuana initiatives passing wherever they have been placed on the ballot, no matter what the variations in the provisions, since 1996. Thus Arizona, Alaska, Oregon, Nevada, Washington, Maine, the District of Columbia and now Colorado, representing more than 20 percent of the U.S. population, have all voted for making marijuana available to sick people, by wide (56 to 69 percent majorities) margins. What all this activity amounts to is citizens desperately trying to get the attention of their "leaders" and tell them it is time for a change in the strict prohibitionist drug policies that have so conspicuously failed to wipe out drug problems and have in fact made them worse. Probably not more than a third of Americans are in favor of full legalization yet. But strong majorities want some common-sense flexibility -- allowing sick people to use marijuana if a doctor agrees it helps them, allowing people to grow hemp, which produces the strongest natural fiber known, and moving in the direction of drug treatment and harm reduction rather than simple prohibition. So far, the only official political body to respond to this increasingly powerful shift in public opinion has been the Hawaii legislature, which earlier this year authorized suspension of marijuana possession, cultivation and transportation laws for people with a doctor's recommendation, and also authorized an experimental patch of industrial hemp for fiber. A few members of Congress have noted the shift and spoken positively about drug law reform, but not many. At some point a few politicians are likely to figure it out and hustle to be at the head of the parade and declare themselves the leaders. How soon this will happen might depend to a great extent on how Prop. 36 in California and a similar regime of treatment before incarceration instituted legislatively and administratively in New York state works in practice. There will be numerous opportunities for mistakes and wrong turns along the way, and no doubt many will be made. But if it is even reasonably successful the demand for alternatives to incarceration in other jurisdictions will grow. It will not be easy for state and county governments in California to implement this measure -- even though it provided $60 million to get a system up and running between now and July 2001, when the new law goes into effect -- and already we are hearing some whining and poor-mouthing as various agencies scramble to stake claims to the money. But there is also evidence of good-faith efforts to make the new system work. The biggest mistake would be to view the new law as a cure-all for drug problems and to spin problems and failures as evidence that the new approach can't work. Voters approved the initiative because they have come to recognize, as have an increasing number of experts in medicine and drug treatment, that the old system of putting people who have problems with certain drugs in jail was not exactly a rip-roaring success. As Dave Fratello, spokesman for the Campaign for New Drug Policies, chief sponsor of Proposition 36, told a reporter earlier this month, "We have chosen a course that is basically going to cope with the drug problem and not seek to get rid of it. The false promise of the drug war is that we can get rid of drugs and persuade everyone to quit. We are trying to be more realistic here." So it's wise to take as a given that whatever policies government adopts, some percentage of the population is going to have trouble coping with certain drugs. It is even possible to wonder whether taking money from taxpayers to provide treatment is really wise, or whether it might encourage some addicts to look to the state to take care of them rather than taking personal responsibility for their lives and choices. But while such a policy is bound to be imperfect, it is probably less harmful than taking money from taxpayers to throw addicts in jail to receive a graduate education in getting away with crime. At this point it is difficult to sort out which objections amount to foot-dragging and which are legitimate concerns expressed by people who want the new policy to work. But some of the following concerns no doubt have some legitimacy. The state Legislative Analyst's Office has issued a thoughtful report noting that implementation will require close collaboration among state and county officials who are not necessarily accustomed to working well together. Many authorities, noting a shortage of treatment programs under the old system, wonder if enough treatment facilities can be up and running by July 2001 to handle the estimated 36,000 people diverted from jail under the new policy. Many critics have noted that the initiative does not provide funds for drug testing, which some consider essential to recovery. Others note that the new system could put new pressures on a probation system, which, according to state Senate President Pro Tempore John Burton, D-San Francisco, has suffered "years of neglect." Many worry that attempts to expand treatment facilities will run into NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) problems. While the initiative requires that treatment programs be state certified, many wonder how the money provided by Prop. 36 ($120 million a year, much less than the cost of incarceration) will be allocated. Some worry that police will "upcharge" -- add trivial charges to possession cases to prevent full implementation of the treatment policies. "I have been around for 30 years of big things in drug treatment, like Proposition 36," said Douglas Anglin, director of UCLA's Drug Abuse Research Center, "and they are always a mess." On the bright side, the state government released money to prepare for implementation as soon as the election results were certified. Kathryn Jett, newly appointed director of the state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, is qualified and apparently motivated to make the new policies work. On Dec. 18 some 650 proponents and critics of the new approach, along with health and law enforcement officials, met for a conference in Sacramento on implementing Prop. 36, co-sponsored by (among others) the California Medical Association, the California Society of Addiction Medicine, California Nurses Association and California Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors. Many of the potential problems were aired, and while not all were resolved some answers are emerging. Bill Zimmerman, executive director of the Campaign for New Drug Policies, told me that plausible answers to most of the potential problems emerged at the conference. "Concern about probation budgets is legitimate," he said, "but under Prop. 36 treatment providers can provide much of the supervision needed for probation officers to monitor those in treatment. Periodic assessments can also be sent directly to the judge." One Los Angeles County superior court judge, he says, plans to randomly assign 5 percent of simple possession cases to treatment between now and July, so the courts can gain experience and work out problems. As for drug testing, a good deal of money is available now for drug testing and more could be appropriated at a time when California's state government is literally taking in tax money faster than it can figure out how to spend it. But not everybody agrees testing is essential. A judge in San Jose, says Mr. Zimmerman, told the conference that drug testing is a waste of money, that relapses are revealed through behavior. Obviously a good deal more study and experience are needed before definitive answers to such issues become apparent. What is most striking so far, however, is the apparent good faith with which most of the players are proceeding. Many law enforcement organizations and judges opposed Prop. 36, but Mr. Zimmerman doesn't expect serious foot-dragging. There are bound to be problems, and it is healthy to discuss potential pitfalls before Prop. 36 goes into effect. It is important to understand that drug treatment is not utopia and give the new policies some time to work, fail or have little impact before delivering a verdict. And speaking of verdicts, some of the loose ends of Proposition 215, the medical marijuana initiative passed in 1996 and implemented only spottily to date, are now being tied up by California juries. Earlier this month a jury in Placer County, one of the most socially conservative places in California, voted 11-1 to acquit Steve and Michele Kubby of all charges related to cultivating and using marijuana in their home near Tahoe. Both have medical conditions and doctor's recommendations -- in Steve's case a rare adrenal cancer attested to by Dr. Vincent DeQuattro, his former physician who is now a department head at the USC Medical School, that is usually fatal in months. The jury, aside from one lady who wanted to convict on all charges despite the evidence, accepted the guidelines developed by a commission including medical people, law enforcement and patients in the city of Oakland a couple of years ago. Based on the fact that the federal government currently provides about seven pounds of marijuana a year to the eight patients still on the since-suspended compassionate IND program, the Oakland group recommends 144 plants per patient per year (in various stages of development to provide a steady supply) for indoor grows, and 96 plants for outdoor plantings. So progress is being made despite little action (and often active foot-dragging) by politicians. Let's see what happens next year. Source: WorldNetDaily (US Web)Author: Alan W. BockPublished: Friday, December 29, 2000Copyright: 2000,, Inc.Address: PO Box 409, Cave Junction, OR 97523-0409Fax: (541) 597-1700Contact: letters worldnetdaily.comWebsite: By Alan Bock:California Campaign For New Drug Policy Praying for Christmas Clemency Up Drug Policy? Drug War Victim Medical Marijuana Archives
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Comment #2 posted by Dan Hillman on January 01, 2001 at 14:11:06 PT
...that margin by which prop. 36 passed is 22 percentage points (not 30). Sorry....
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Comment #1 posted by Dan Hillman on January 01, 2001 at 14:05:51 PT
Hope some politicians (or lackeys thereof)...
...are reading this. Although WorldNet Daily tends to publish some of the kookier religious-right ideas on the web (chief editor joe farah is fond of saying he believes armageddon to be near), the fact even parts of the religious right supported prop. 36 should be enough to give drug warrior politicians pause.  The huge margin (30 percentage points) by which prop. 36 passed in California exemplifies the broad, "bi-partisan" distate the population is beginning to show towards the drug warriors. Orrin Hatch, are you listening? 
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