Pubdate: Fri,  1 Nov 2002
Source: Newsday (NY)
Copyright: 2002 Newsday Inc.
Author: John McCarthy
Bookmark: (Ohio Campaign for New Drug Policies)


COLUMBUS, Ohio - Mansour Bey credits a drug treatment program for
helping him kick a crack cocaine addiction. Nola Tinkey says a tough
love approach that briefly sent her to jail got her off drugs.

The two are on opposite sides of an Ohio ballot initiative pushed by
three billionaires -- and strongly opposed by the Republican governor
and much of the criminal justice establishment.

The proposal, listed as Issue 1 on Ohio's Nov. 5 ballot, would require
judges to impose treatment, not jail time, for nonviolent first- and
second-time offenders who request it.

The maximum sentence under current law is 18 months for a second
offense. Issue 1 would cap jail time at 90 days.

Issue 1 "saves money and it saves lives. That's the bottom line," said
Ed Orlett, a former legislator who is director of the Ohio Campaign
for New Drug Policies. "We can treat six people for what it costs to
keep one in prison."

Three billionaires -- University of Phoenix founder John Sperling, New
York financier George Soros and Ohio insurance executive Peter Lewis
- -- have spent millions over the past four years backing similar ballot
initiatives, which they depict as a referendum on the war against drugs.

Voters approved treatment-instead-of-jail proposals backed by the
three men in Arizona in 1996 and California two years ago. The
reformers are backing a similar proposal this year in Washington,
D.C., and in recent elections backed successful medical marijuana laws
in several states.

Drug reformers also are taking aim at marijuana laws in this election.
If ballot measures pass Tuesday, possession of small amounts of
marijuana would be legalized in Nevada and decriminalized in Arizona.
The Arizona measure also would require police to distribute the drug
to seriously ill people to alleviate pain.

Backers of the Ohio proposal say passage would help offenders kick
their habits and avoid turning to more serious crimes. They say
treatment costs about $4,000 a year for each offender versus about
$22,000 for incarceration.

"Without treatment, a person never truly understands the nature of the
disease of addiction," said Bey, 60, a Toledo minister recovering from
addictions to crack, heroin and amphetamines. He supports Issue 1.

Opponents say Issue 1, if approved, would circumvent the justice
system, putting criminals on the street and removing any incentive for
quitting drugs. Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican running for re-election,
has called the drug issue an assault on Ohio's criminal justice system
that is "seductive, deceptive and dangerous."

The federal government has not actively opposed Issue 1, but both John
Walters, President Bush's drug czar, and Drug Enforcement Agency
director Asa Hutchinson spoke against the proposal during unrelated
visits to Ohio this year. Both men have campaigned vigorously against
the Nevada and Arizona marijuana proposals.

Both camps in the Ohio campaign have been looking at the impact of the
Arizona treatment law adopted in 1996. According to 1999 report by the
Arizona Supreme Court, 64 percent of drug offenders diverted under the
law completed their treatment program, compared with 62 percent of
those who received treatment but were not charged with a drug crime.

Judges have become frustrated with drug offenders sentenced under the
1996 law who fail to show up for treatment because they know they
won't be imprisoned, said Jerry Landau, a special assistant Maricopa
County attorney in Phoenix. But supporters of the initiative say the
64 percent success rate is positive. "That's a pretty good indicator
that people want treatment," said Dave Fratello, political director
for the Campaign for New Drug Policies, the parent group of the Ohio

Independent statistics are not available for California, which just
began studying the effects of its Proposition 36, passed in November

Tinkey, 53, ended up in an Ohio drug court after 13 years of cocaine
addiction that led to conviction on a possession charge. Drug courts
require participation in treatment programs and carry the threat of
jail time.

Tinkey spent six days in jail after a relapse and could have faced
prison time. Yet she asked to go back to the same program.

"It took all the measures that they could do to bring me to where I am
now, but it finally opened up my eyes that this isn't where I want to
be," said Tinkey, a caterer for industrial work sites.

Bill Zimmerman, executive director of the pro-reform Drug Policy
Alliance, said the movement is gaining strength.

"Win or lose, we believe we have injected the need for reform into the
mainstream political debate," he told a news briefing Thursday. "We
are not going away."
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