VOTERS READY TO REASSESS DRUG 'WAR'

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Date: Thu, 30 Nov 2000 20:27:35 -0800
From: "D. Paul Stanford" <stanford@crrh.org>
To: restore@crrh.org
Subject: CT: Voters Ready To Reassess Drug 'War'
Message-ID:
Newshawk: Ned Pocengal
Pubdate: Thu, 30 Nov 2000
Source: New Haven Register (CT)
Copyright: 2000, New Haven Register
Contact: letters@nhregister.com
Forum: http://www.ctcentral.com/
Author: Jelani Lawson
Note: Jelani Lawson is a member of New Haven' s Board of Aldermen and
executive director of A Better Way Foundation, which advocates for public
health and treatment solutions to substance abuse.

VOTERS READY TO REASSESS DRUG 'WAR'

Controversy surrounding the presidential election continues to dominate
national and local media to the detriment of other decisive and important
expressions of voter will. All but ignored has been a national voter
movement for a more rational, just, and cost-effective drug policy.

Via the referendum process, voters chose to reform Oregon and Utah asset
forfeiture laws to bar confiscation of property a " primarily in drug cases
a " without conviction for a crime. Citizens in Nevada and Colorado voted
to establish an affirmative defense to state criminal laws for patients and
their primary care-givers relating to the medical use of marijuana.

California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 36, the Substance
Abuse and Crime Prevention Act, which will provide drug treatment as the
first and second line of defense for nonviolent drug possession offenders.

Collectively, these referendums seek to reduce the casualties of drug
warfare: innocent property owners, victims of debilitating illness, and
nonviolent, chemically dependent individuals.

Over the past 20 years, Americaa s war on drugs has provided the nation
with a criminal justice and incarceration-oriented paradigm to deal with
the problem of substance abuse. In the face of a burgeoning drug control
bureaucracy, $50 billion in annual expense, and 2 million people behind
bars, average citizens are beginning to question, "Is this war working?"

While the verdict may still be out, in this election voters in five states
indicated the government cannot subvert due process protections in the name
of the drug war; properly administered, marijuana is a valuable treatment
for certain chronic illness; and the criminal justice system should focus
on sending nonviolent offenders into treatment, not prison.

In Connecticut, we do not have an initiative process for nonconstitutional
issues. We are bound by the legislative process, which requires that
elected leaders represent voter will by enacting legislation reflecting
their interests.

It is time for the General Assembly to seriously reconsider the framework
we choose to address drug policy. In light of prison overcrowding, possible
first steps would include providing universal access to drug treatment in
the criminal justice system to stop the cycle of crime and addiction;
expanding availability of alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent
offenders who are proven to benefit from community programs; and providing
treatment and education as the first line of defense for nonviolent drug
possession offenders.

The legislature should also address the racial disparities in sentencing
that contribute to African Americans and Latinos being incarcerated at 15
and 12 times the rate of whites.

Emphasizing public health as opposed to criminal justice when it comes to
nonviolent drug abuse is not soft on crime, it is smart on crime.

Ita s a policy that recognizes drug treatment reduces drug use and
drug-related crime. Alternatives to incarceration reduce recidivism and
when it comes to nonviolent drug offenders, we are better off paying for
treatment than jail cells. These programs operate at $7,000 per year for
each participant, while the cost of incarcerating an offender is more than
$25,000 per year.


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