DISSENT IS GAINING IN THE WAR ON DRUGS

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Date: Sun, 03 Dec 2000 18:40:20 -0800
From: "D. Paul Stanford" <stanford@crrh.org>
To: restore@crrh.org
Subject: US: Dissent Is Gaining In The War On Drugs
Message-ID: <5.0.0.25.2.20001203183938.04f57eb0@mail.olywa.net>

Pubdate: Sat, 02 Dec 2000
Source: Alameda Times-Star (CA)
Copyright: 2000 MediaNews Group, Inc. and ANG Newspapers
Contact: triblet@angnewspapers.com
Address: 66 Jack London Sq. Oakland, CA 94607
Website: Home - Digital First Media
Author: Ethan A. Nadelmann
Note: Ethan A. Nadelmann writes for the Los Angeles Times.
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DISSENT IS GAINING IN THE WAR ON DRUGS

ELECTION Day 2000 was a big day for drug policy reform.

In California, voters overwhelmingly endorsed Proposition 36, the
"treatment instead of incarceration" ballot initiative that should result
in tens of thousands of nonviolent drug-possession offenders being diverted
from jail and prison into programs that may help them get their lives
together.

The new law may do more to reverse the unnecessary incarceration of
nonviolent citizens than any other law enacted anywhere in the country in
decades.

It wasn't just California that opted for drug reform. Voters in Nevada and
Colorado approved medical-marijuana ballot initiatives, following in the
footsteps of California, Oregon, Alaska, Washington state, Maine and
Washington, D.C. In Oregon and Utah, voters overwhelmingly approved ballot
initiatives requiring police and prosecutors to meet a reasonable burden of
proof before seizing money and other property from people they suspect of
criminal activity -- and also mandating that the proceeds of legal
forfeitures be handed over not to the police and prosecuting agencies that
had seized the property but rather to funds for public education or drug
treatment.

These were not the only victories for drug policy reform at the ballot in
recent years. California's Proposition 36 was modeled in part on Arizona's
Proposition 200. In Oregon, the first of 11 states to decriminalize
marijuana during the 1970s, voters in 1998 rejected an effort by the state
Legislature to recriminalize marijuana. And in Mendocino County, voters
this year approved a local initiative to decriminalize personal cultivation
of modest amounts of marijuana.

Clearly, more and more citizens realize that the drug war has failed and
are looking for new approaches. The votes also suggest that there are
limits to what people will accept in the name of the war on drugs. Parents
don't want their teen-agers to use marijuana, but they also want sick
people who could benefit from marijuana to have it. People don't want drug
dealers profiting from their illicit activities, but neither do they want
police empowered to take what they want from anyone they merely suspect of
criminal activity. Americans don't approve of people using heroin or
cocaine, but neither do they want them locked up without first offering
them opportunities to get their lives together outside prison walls.

So what do drug policy reformers do next? In the case of medical marijuana,
three things: enact medical marijuana laws in other states through the
legislative process; work to ensure that medical marijuana laws are
effectively implemented; and try to induce the federal government to stop
undermining good-faith efforts by state officials to establish regulated
distribution systems.

The strategy of post-Proposition 36 is somewhat similar. The struggle over
implementation of the initiative in California has already begun, with many
of its opponents trying either to grab their share of the pie or to tie the
process up in knots. Powerful vested interests in the criminal justice
business, accustomed to getting their way, did not look kindly on the
challenges the proposition posed to the status quo.

If California's new law is implemented in good faith, with minimal
corruption of its intentions, the benefits could be extraordinary, saving
taxpayers up to $1.5 billion in prison costs over the next five years while
making good drug treatment available to hundreds of thousands.

Proposition 36 also provides a model -- both for initiatives in other
states where public opinion favors reform but the legislature and/or the
governor are unable or unwilling to comply, and in states such as New York,
where no ballot initiative process exists to repeal draconian and archaic
laws.

The initiative victories demonstrated once again that the public is ahead
of the politicians when it comes to embracing pragmatic drug policy reforms.

Three states -- North Dakota, Minnesota and Hawaii -- legalized the
cultivation of hemp (to the extent permitted by federal law). Hawaii
enacted a medical marijuana law this year, with the support of Gov. Ben
Cayetano. And, most significant in terms of potential lives saved, three
states -- New York, New Hampshire and Rhode Island -- each enacted laws
making it easier to purchase sterile syringes in pharmacies.

New Mexico doesn't have the initiative process, but it does have a
Republican governor, Gary Johnson, committed to far-reaching drug policy
reform. Many state Democratic leaders are critical of the war on drugs but
wary of the governor. The question is whether bipartisan support for
sensible drug reforms can transcend generic partisan hostilities. The drug
policy reformers' job is to help make that happen.

The election results have made it clear that drug policy reform is gaining
momentum -- in California and across the country.

Ethan A. Nadelmann writes for the Los Angeles Times.
_____________________________________________
Distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in
receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.
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