Measure Treats Drug Use as Illness 

Measure Treats Drug Use as Illness 
Posted by FoM on April 19, 2000 at 15:51:27 PT
Diversion campaign to turn in signatures
Source: Union-Tribune
Proponents of a ballot measure to take drug addicts headed for the state's overcrowded prisons and divert them to treatment programs plan to turn in signatures for their initiative this week. And, they said yesterday, they expect to put their proposal before California voters in November. 
The initiative, funded by a trio of wealthy opponents of the drug war, including billionaire financier George Soros, could spark a national debate on drug policy. Under the plan, those convicted of nonviolent drug possession offenses, as well as parolees who use drugs, would be sent to treatment centers rather than county jail or state prison. Currently, 19,743 of the state prison system's 160,000 inmates are there for possession of illegal drugs. Addicts who complete treatment would have their convictions erased from the public record. Otherwise, they'd face jail time. The measure, based on an initiative approved by Arizona voters in 1996, also would increase funding for rehabilitation programs. Those convicted of selling or making drugs wouldn't be eligible for diversion. Backers of the plan say it would save money and prevent crime. "This is intended to divert nonviolent drug abusers into treatment," said Dave Fratello, spokesman for the initiative campaign. "We want to start treating drug addiction as a medical problem rather than a criminal justice problem." A preliminary analysis done by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office estimates the measure would save the state between $100 million and $150 million a year by diverting about 25,000 people a year from state prisons. The analyst also estimates the new law would save the state about $500 million in one-time prison construction costs and save counties an additional $50 million per year by diverting convicts from county jails. The proposal is likely to face strong opposition from the state's powerful prison guards union, which spends freely in support of tough-on-crime laws and the politicians who support them. "If substance abuse is like having a house on fire, this measure is like cutting off one of the fireman's arms," said Jeff Thompson, lobbyist for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. "All we're left with is treatment." Thompson said the prison guards union hasn't taken a formal position on the ballot measure, but he sees the treatment proposal as fatally flawed. He argues that erasing the record of drug convictions will prevent employers from determining whether prospective workers are addicts, a special problem for those hiring bus drivers, school employees and air traffic controllers. Parole agents, he said, need to be able to yank parolees who use drugs back to prison because drug use frequently is a sign that a convict is going to start committing other crimes. Backers of the measure try to get around that problem by denying diversion to parolees who had a prior conviction for a serious or violent crime, ranging from residential burglary to murder. The leaders of the initiative campaign come from a group called Campaign for New Drug Policies, which helped pass the 1996 California ballot measure that legalized marijuana for medical use in this state and similar measures in several other states. The donors also are veterans of the medical marijuana campaigns, including Soros, a New York investor; Peter Lewis, a Cleveland insurance titan; and John Sperling, founder of the University of Phoenix business college. Soros funds institutions that promote alternatives to the current war on drugs. Sperling helped fund the 1996 Arizona proposition campaign. Fratello said backers of the ballot measure, called the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act, have collected 710,000 signatures. They need about 419,000 to qualify for the ballot. The measure allocates $60 million from the state general fund for treatment for the 2000-01 fiscal year and $120 million each year after that until fiscal year 2005-06. Fratello said the ballot measure would allow California to reduce spending on "failed policies and conserve jail and prison space for truly dangerous offenders." Sacramento:By Bill Ainsworth Union-Tribune Staff Writer Published: April 19, 2000  Copyright 2000 Union-Tribune Publishing Co. Cannabisnews Articles On Drug Addiction:
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Comment #1 posted by Symmetric on April 19, 2000 at 19:09:46 PT:
proper analogy
"If substance abuse is like having a house on fire, this measure is like cutting off one of the fireman's arms," said Jeff Thompson, lobbyist for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. "All we're left with is treatment." These people say some pretty hilarious things. Think of it this way; jail is the firemans axe and treatment is the firemans hose. If substance abuse is like having a house on fire, god help you when they try and save the house by chopping it down.
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