Pubdate: Fri, 16 Jan 2004
Source: Drug War Chronicle (US Web)
Author: Phillip S. Smith, Editor
Cited: Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
Bookmark: (Hawaii)


Legislature, Governor Vow to Act

A Hawaii legislative task force studying methamphetamine use in the
state has come out with a comprehensive package of legislative
proposals weighted heavily toward education, prevention and treatment.
While the task force included some calls for tougher drug laws in its
recommendations, it declined to endorse proposals sought by Gov. Linda
Lingle (R) and the law enforcement community that would have
heightened police powers at the expense of Hawaiians' privacy and
civil liberties.

Hawaii has one of the nation's highest methamphetamine use rates. It
is also unique in that most Hawaiian users favor "ice," a glassy,
crystalline form of the drug suitable for smoking.

"We are going more toward treatment and early intervention," said
state Senator Colleen Hanabusa (D), chair of the Senate Judiciary
Committee and one of three co-chairs for the legislative ice task
force. "The testimony we heard showed that if anything was working to
reduce ice use in this state, it is educating the youth. The
statistics show that use has declined among 6th to 12th graders
because they're getting the message that ice is not only addictive,
but a very bad drug," she told DRCNet.

"We do have some law enforcement legislative packages, but that
approach cannot be the answer in and of itself," she added. "It won't
work, and it's extremely expensive. You have to have prisons, and
we're already shipping a good percentage of our prisoners out of
state, almost 2,000 out of 5,000, and then we have to pay other
states, Oklahoma or Texas, to watch our prisoners," she continued.
"No, we have put a lot of money on early intervention, we'll be asking
for funding for those sorts of programs, and for treatment."

At a time when state legislatures around the country are responding to
methamphetamine use with such reflexive measures as increasing
sentences for meth offenses, restricting the sale of legal products
that can be used in meth manufacture, and heightening penalties for
other meth-related offenses, such as stealing anhydrous ammonia, the
Hawaii legislative task force's embrace of a public health approach to
ice use and its attendant social consequences -- whether derived from
prohibition or from the particular pharmacological effects of the drug
itself -- is remarkable. And the task force is putting its money where
its mouth is. Spending priorities for the $21.6 million dollar set of
programs are as follows:

. $10.7 million for adult drug treatment

. $4.5 million for teen intervention and drug treatment

. $3.5 million for drug abuse prevention for families, schools, and
youth programs

. $1.2 million for expanded drug court programs

. $850,000 to fund the state's "treatment not jail" program for
first-time, nonviolent drug offenders, which the legislature passed in
2002 but failed to fund . $300,000 to study the impact of ice labs on
Hawaii's environment, particularly groundwater supplies

According to the task force, some 20,000 Hawaiian adults need drug
treatment, and 10,000 of those want it. But with treatment available
for only 6,000 of those, the task force identified a shortfall. Its
recommendations are intended to provide treatment for anyone willing
to accept it. "The problem we have here is with future costs," said
Sen. Hanabusa. "We know that for every dollar we put into treatment or
prevention, we'll save seven down the road. If people look at the cost
savings, they will see it makes sense to fund this."

It's not all sweetness and light and fiscal responsibility, however.
While it shot down the governor's wiretapping and "walk and talk"
proposals, the task force did endorse stiffer sentences for drug
traffickers, for harming children exposed to ice, operating ice labs
near schools or public parks, and distributing drugs to pregnant
women. The task force also recommended toughening the state's
paraphernalia laws, more funding for drug dogs in the Department of
Public Safety, and funds to the Office of Community Services to
coordinate community, government, and law enforcement anti-ice efforts.

Reflexive "tough on crime" measures notwithstanding, drug reformers
and researchers involved in the issue pronounced themselves generally
satisfied. "It's actually a pretty decent set of recommendations,"
said Pam Lichty, head of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii. "While no
one has seen the actual bills yet, by and large they are taking the
public health approach. They are talking about spending a lot of money
on treatment, prevention, and funding the diversion program for drug
offenders," she told DRCNet. "And while there are some parts of the
package that we don't like, the task force explicitly rejected
changing the wiretapping laws. The law enforcement coalition really
wants that, but the task force noted that they asked for more
information from prosecutors about how they are hampered by current
law, and they didn't get it."

"I was very, very pleased with the recommendations," said Alice Dickow
of the Ice Treatment Project and principal investigator for the MATRIX
study, an 18-month look at women and methamphetamine abuse. "The fact
that they lead with the statement that it's a public health issue is
heartening. It's a very enlightened and helpful approach. It also
shows they listened, because they heard reams of testimony to that
effect," she told DRCNet.

"I was concerned during this process that with two campaigns being
waged -- the anti-crime law enforcement campaign and the treatment and
prevention campaign -- that the public health message would be
obscured in the furor over how best to crime-fight this," she added.
"That didn't happen. And the amount the recommended indicated they
were aware they couldn't use half-measures."

Ah, the money. Therein lies the rub. "There is no funding mechanism in
this," said Lichty. "Tax increases will be hard to pass. They have
suggested sin taxes, maybe on alcohol or tobacco, or tapping into one
of the state funds, like the tobacco settlement fund or the hurricane
relief fund. At the same time there is real public support for some of
these measures, so this promises to be real interesting."

"We're not sure there is going to be support to raise any form of
taxes, but that doesn't mean that we've ruled it out," said Sen.
Hanabusa. "But we will leave those decisions to the Finance and Ways
and Means committees," she said. "They need to find the ways and means
to get this done."

While the task force was a bipartisan effort, that is likely to fade
away in the heat of political combat. The process has already begun.
The press conference announcing the task force's recommendations was a
Democratic affair, and the task force's bills will be introduced as
part of the Democratic legislative program. Gov. Lingle's initial
response to the proposals was tart and snippy, saying they were way
too expensive. The proposals do call for substantially more spending
than Lingle's competing anti-ice legislative package. Lingle is also
peeved because the task force rejected two key parts of her package,
easing restrictions on wiretaps and allowing "walk and talks."

"We're hoping the governor's preliminary reaction isn't sustained and
she will support this," said Hanabusa. "She has said she would look at
this in more detail, and in order to get this through the system, she
needs to be working with us," she said.

There are other concerns. "When we looked at data on the women we
treated, the one thing that really stuck out was employment and
education issues," said researcher Dickow. "I would really hate to see
money for this initiative come at the expense of other social
services. That would be robbing Peter to pay Paul."

Dickow also pointed to another, often overlooked issue. "There are
talking about a lot of money, more than we've ever had in our system,"
she said. "Just throwing money at this without monitoring outcomes
would be foolish. We need treatment providers to look at outcomes to
ensure treatment and prevention is effective. I don't believe poor
service is better than no service; there has to be scientific

"We are demanding accountability," said Hanabusa. "We have to have
measurements of success. We are responsible to the taxpayers. We've
been telling them we studied this, but for them to say okay, we also
have to be accountable."

That would be great, said Dickow. "Hawaii is really poised to show the
rest of the nation what works, what interventions work, what treatment
programs work. A serious evaluation of efforts in Hawaii would be a
service to the nation."

The legislature has 60 working days to figure it out. Expect results
by mid-May or not at all this year.

The report of the Joint House-Senate Task Force on Ice and Drug
Abatement can be viewed at:
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake