Pubdate: Mon, 16 Jul 2001
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Section: Part A, Pg A1
Copyright: 2001 News World Communications, Inc.
Author: Thomas D. Elias

Special To The Washington Times


Backers Behind California Proposition Expanding Efforts

LOS ANGELES - About 50,000 or more nonviolent drug offenders will not be 
going to jail every year as a result of a voters' initiative Californians 
passed last fall.

Proposition 36 took effect July 1, amid warnings from prosecutors and 
drug-treatment programs that the nation's largest state doesn't have 
sufficient facilities or personnel to handle a flood of new drug 
rehabilitation patients who would formerly have done prison time for their 

Meanwhile, the mega-millionaire backers who funded the campaign for 
Proposition 36 are not deterred: They are pushing on with drives for 
similar laws in several other states.  The money men - New York financier 
George Soros, Cleveland insurance mogul Peter Lewis and University of 
Phoenix founder John Sperling - spent more than $3.5 million pushing 
Proposition 36. Before that, they spent more than $5 million backing 
California's 1996 Proposition 215, which has led to enormous confusion by 
attempting to legalize medical marijuana.  They plan to spend millions more 
to repeat their success in Florida, Michigan and Ohio.

In each state, says campaign manager Bill Zimmerman, the Santa Monica 
consultant who ran the Proposition 36 campaign in California, the 
rehab-not-prison propositions led by at least 20 points in recent private 

"We're going to rub this in the noses of Congress and the administration," 
said Mr.  Sperling.  "The American people realize the drug war is a failure 
and something has to be done about it.  We're going to keep going to the 
initiative process until the politicians start listening."

Opponents claim the three are simply furthering their personal agendas.

"It's dangerous for our democracy when very wealthy people from out of 
state can put measures on the ballot, run very misleading ads and succeed 
in getting the laws changed," said Calvina Fay, executive director of 
Drug-Free America Foundation, a Florida group that helped fight the 
California proposition.

So far, it appears the toughest battle over next year's round of 
drug-treatment propositions may come in Florida, where Republican Gov. Jeb 
Bush opposes the measure and it is likely potential Democratic opponent 
Janet Reno, the former attorney general, also will.

Mr.  Bush's drug policy director James McDonough has already begun 
campaigning against his state's version of the measure, calling it "a hoax 
on the citizens of Florida."

While campaigns take shape elsewhere, the California justice system may 
soon find itself flooded with convicted offenders who cannot go to prison, 
but can't find spots in accredited residential rehab programs, either. Many 
will likely end up either as outpatients or simply on probation.

The first prominent figure to exploit this situation is former Oakland 
Raider quarterback Todd Marinovich, now the signal caller of the Los 
Angeles Avengers arena football team.  Mr.  Marinovich on Monday requested 
that a judge convict him of felony heroin possession.

Exact terms of his rehab won't be determined until August.

Previously, he had fought the charges in an effort to avoid jail time.

"There are a lot of profound problems," said Bob Mimura, director of the 
Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee of Los Angeles County. His county 
has nowhere near enough treatment centers or counseling centers to handle 
the estimated 20,000 nonviolent offenders who will emerge from the local 
court system this year.

"I hate to say the sky is falling, but there are going to be problems, big 
problems," he said.

"The biggest problem is that the number of people involved in Proposition 
36 as defendants was grossly underestimated . . . and the money is just not 
going to be there," said Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Tynan.

State officials earmarked at least $175 million for handling Proposition 36 
cases, with much of the money going for additional courtrooms, prosecutors 
and public defenders.

That's not enough and it may be at least partially misdirected, warn some 

They note that even before Proposition 36 passed, California was severely 
short of drug counselors.  They also warn that the state has no drug 
testing system in place for handling urine samples from convicted offenders 
in nonresidential rehab programs.

State Senate President John Burton, San Francisco Democrat, says 
legislators will shortly pass a bill to provide as much as $18 million for 
testing, but no one knows when that money will arrive or how soon a testing 
system will be in place.

Meanwhile, an independent study last week concluded that California's 
largest counties are not ready for the new treatment-first sentencing regimen.

The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation said counties like San Diego, 
San Bernardino and Sacramento are refusing to budget enough money for 

"They have designed plans that are likely to fail," said the report. "In 
these places, there is no commitment to quality treatment."

But San Bernardino County, for one, insists it has a good plan in place.

"The people who wrote this don't think the courts or law enforcement should 
be involved in the drug problem anymore," said county spokesman David Wert. 
"But we have found that treatment is only successful if defendants know 
they will face legal consequences if they don't cooperate."

None of this fazes the original financial backers of Proposition 36. 
"California will work out the rough spots, and then we'll see less 
recidivism due to the treatment," said a spokesman for Mr.  Zimmerman. 
"This is necessary change that will eventually come everywhere."
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