New Tactics in Drug War

New Tactics in Drug War
Posted by FoM on January 14, 2001 at 16:48:29 PT
A Times Editorial
Source: St. Petersburg Times 
California and other states are trying treatment rather than prison for some non-violent drug offenders. The move is both compassionate and sensible. These words were spoken not by some Cannabis Society member but by George Pataki, the Republican governor of New York who wants to "dramatically" reform his state's notoriously harsh drug laws. Another Republican governor, Gary E. Johnson of New Mexico, has been even more outspoken in criticizing the nation's anti-drug strategy. 
Johnson headed a commission that, among other things, has proposed eliminating all penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana (President Clinton has taken the same position) and getting rid of mandatory minimum sentencing laws in other first and second drug offenses. Even the outgoing White House drug czar, retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, has joined in the call for reform as doubts about the nation's approach to battling illegal drugs are surfacing all across the country. The politics of the war on drugs are changing, and it appears some elected officials are waking up to a reality that many Americans have known for years -- that a rigid, punitive approach to drug abuse is not only ineffective but, in some ways, counterproductive. In a landslide decision on Nov. 7, California voters said they prefer treatment to prison for non-violent first- or second-time drug offenders. The new law and others like it allow states to treat drug use as the public health matter it really is, rather than relying on the wasteful incarceration of low-level drug offenders. California's ballot change is similar to a recent New York state measure and a 4-year-old initiative in Arizona that have helped more than 75 percent of program participants to remain drug free. These efforts to shift emphasis from jail to treatment coincide with the passage of relaxed drug measures in four other states. As compassionate as this shift in attitude may seem, it has some pragmatic motives as well. With a prison population in New York that has ballooned from 14,700 prisoners in 18 facilities in 1973 to a 1999 figure of 70,000 inmates in 70 prisons, Pataki must look with envy on California's projected savings. California's independent Legislative Analyst's Office estimates the measure will cut its prison population by 36,000 non-violent offenders each year. Since Californians pay $24,000 to incarcerate each state prisoner, compared with a treatment cost of $4,000, savings are expected to run close to $250-million annually. Moreover, the state will reap a one-time savings of between $450-million and $550-million that would have gone to prison construction; local governments will save an estimated $40-million a year in operation costs. And those figures don't even include savings from health care, public assistance and law enforcement when the number of addicts is reduced over time. Such measures also free up beds for violent offenders without releasing other inmates early. As a safeguard, California's law is narrowly tailored to give probation and treatment only to people convicted of possession and personal use of controlled substances. So those caught selling or manufacturing drugs, or who are also arrested for charges like weapons possession or theft, get processed under the old rules. The California measure also gives judges broad leeway to mandate vocational training, family counseling, literacy training and community service. Offenders failing treatment twice can be sentenced to prison, and those who fail three times are required to serve time. The threat of incarceration provides a needed measure of accountability. California's proposition is not perfect, but it is an encouraging step in the right direction and marks an important turning point in the national debate over anti-drug policy. This outbreak of common sense cannot spread fast enough to other states, including Florida. Source: St. Petersburg Times (FL)Published: January 13, 2001Copyright: 2001 St. Petersburg TimesContact: letters sptimes.comWebsite: Articles:A Drug Warrior Who Would Rather Treat Than Fight Bill Would Legalize Small Amounts of Pot York Governor Calls for Drug Law Reform New Era for Drug Policy? Pot Smoking Should Not Be Prison Offense 
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