Pubdate: Wed, 27 Jun 2001
Source: Ventura County Star (CA)
Copyright: 2001, Ventura County Star
Page: B01
Author: Tamara Koehler; Staff writer
Cited: Lindesmith Drug Policy Foundation
Bookmarks:  (Substance Abuse and Crime 
Prevention Act) (Soros, George) (Lewis, Peter) (Sperling, John)


Supporters Say Laws Help Reduce Crime, The Number Of Drug Addicts

Backers of Proposition 36 intend to launch similar ballot measures in
other states in the hopes of changing the "way this country on a
national level deals with drug offenders," a co-author of the
initiative said this week.

Dan Abrahamson, head lawyer at the Lindesmith Drug Policy Foundation
in San Francisco, spoke to a group of treatment providers, lawyers and
law enforcement officials Monday night in Oxnard about how the new law
was written and its intent.

Abrahamson acknowledged the tensions and concerns over the details of
the initiative, but emphasized voters spoke "loud and clear -- the
status quo, the old way of dealing with drug offenders is not working."

Proposition 36, which voters approved by a 2-1 margin in November, is
the most sweeping change in the criminal justice system in decades.
The new law requires judges to sentence nonviolent misdemeanor and
felony drug offenders to treatment programs instead of jail or prison.
Those who violate their probation or parole for drug-related charges
must also be given the option of treatment first.

Abrahamson said a similar law was passed in Arizona four years ago
that is showing "treatment does work." Using the results from Arizona
and eventually California, Abrahamson said he and a group of drug-law
reformists will be pushing similar initiatives in other states in the
next two years.

Proposition 36 was financed by three wealthy out-of-state backers --
George Soros, Peter Lewis and John Sperling -- who oppose lengthy
prison and jail terms for low-level drug offenders. Critics say the
three men, as well as Abrahamson's foundation, are advocating the
legalization of drugs, particularly marijuana, through measures such
as Proposition 36.

But Abrahamson said the new law only changes the consequences for
drug-possession offenses, and addresses the longstanding lack of
treatment for addicts.

"The core principle of Proposition 36 is treatment," he said. "Yet,
for the last 20 to 30 years, treatment has been put on the back
burner. It has become the poor stepchild to the criminal justice
system which relies heavily on arrest, prosecution and incarceration
of low-level drug offenders."

Proposition 36 makes public health, not criminal justice, the focus of
the law when it comes to dealing with addicts arrested for possession
and use of drugs, including heroin and cocaine, Abrahamson said.

The proposition also mandates that a felony conviction for drug
possession be expunged from a person's record if he or she
successfully completes the Proposition 36 treatment program.

About 3,500 to 4,000 drug offenders in Ventura County are expected to
qualify for Proposition 36-mandated treatment, said Luis Tovar,
director of the Behavioral Health Department's Drug and Alcohol
Program division.

Ventura County will be getting roughly $2.4 million from the $120
million of state general fund money set aside each year under
Proposition 36.

Several asked Abrahamson how that annual amount was selected, saying
it appeared to be too low to meet the demand and cost of expanded treatment.

He said the amount was selected based on estimations by the
independent Legislative Analyst's Office.

By 2005-06, the money will stop flowing but the law requiring
treatment instead of jail will remain on the books. Abrahamson said at
that point the state Legislature will have to step in and decide
whether to keep funding the treatment mandate.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake