Pubdate: Thu, 30 Nov 2000
Source: New Haven Register (CT)
Copyright: 2000, New Haven Register
Author: Jelani Lawson
Note: Jelani Lawson is a member of New Haven' s Board of Aldermen and 
executive director of A Better Way Foundation, which advocates for public 
health and treatment solutions to substance abuse.


Controversy surrounding the presidential election continues to dominate 
national and local media to the detriment of other decisive and important 
expressions of voter will. All but ignored has been a national voter 
movement for a more rational, just, and cost-effective drug policy.

Via the referendum process, voters chose to reform Oregon and Utah asset 
forfeiture laws to bar confiscation of property a " primarily in drug cases 
a " without conviction for a crime. Citizens in Nevada and Colorado voted 
to establish an affirmative defense to state criminal laws for patients and 
their primary care-givers relating to the medical use of marijuana.

California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 36, the Substance 
Abuse and Crime Prevention Act, which will provide drug treatment as the 
first and second line of defense for nonviolent drug possession offenders.

Collectively, these referendums seek to reduce the casualties of drug 
warfare: innocent property owners, victims of debilitating illness, and 
nonviolent, chemically dependent individuals.

Over the past 20 years, Americaa  s war on drugs has provided the nation 
with a criminal justice and incarceration-oriented paradigm to deal with 
the problem of substance abuse. In the face of a burgeoning drug control 
bureaucracy, $50 billion in annual expense, and 2 million people behind 
bars, average citizens are beginning to question, "Is this war working?"

While the verdict may still be out, in this election voters in five states 
indicated the government cannot subvert due process protections in the name 
of the drug war; properly administered, marijuana is a valuable treatment 
for certain chronic illness; and the criminal justice system should focus 
on sending nonviolent offenders into treatment, not prison.

In Connecticut, we do not have an initiative process for nonconstitutional 
issues. We are bound by the legislative process, which requires that 
elected leaders represent voter will by enacting legislation reflecting 
their interests.

It is time for the General Assembly to seriously reconsider the framework 
we choose to address drug policy. In light of prison overcrowding, possible 
first steps would include providing universal access to drug treatment in 
the criminal justice system to stop the cycle of crime and addiction; 
expanding availability of alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent 
offenders who are proven to benefit from community programs; and providing 
treatment and education as the first line of defense for nonviolent drug 
possession offenders.

The legislature should also address the racial disparities in sentencing 
that contribute to African Americans and Latinos being incarcerated at 15 
and 12 times the rate of whites.

Emphasizing public health as opposed to criminal justice when it comes to 
nonviolent drug abuse is not soft on crime, it is smart on crime.

Ita  s a policy that recognizes drug treatment reduces drug use and 
drug-related crime. Alternatives to incarceration reduce recidivism and 
when it comes to nonviolent drug offenders, we are better off paying for 
treatment than jail cells. These programs operate at $7,000 per year for 
each participant, while the cost of incarcerating an offender is more than 
$25,000 per year.
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MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager