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Florida Governor Orders State Employee Drug Testing

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) Tuesday issued an executive order Tuesday requiring that current state employees submit to random drug tests and that applicants for state jobs undergo pre-hiring drug tests. The order will go into effect in 60 days for current employees and immediately for new hires, but it certain to be challenged in court.

Rick Scott
The executive order came as the state legislature grapples with a bill that would require people who apply for state welfare benefits to submit to a drug test -- and pay for it themselves -- before receiving them. That bill, Senate Bill 556, is supported by Gov. Scott and passed the Senate Criminal Justice Committee Tuesday.

"Floridians deserve to know that those in public service, whose salaries are paid with taxpayer dollars, are part of a drug-free workplace," Scott said. "Just as it is appropriate to screen those seeking taxpayer assistance, it is also appropriate to screen government employees."

The bill applies only to workers in executive agencies that answer to the governor. Legislators and their staffs would be exempt.

State law already allows for, but does not require, pre-employment drug testing of applicants for jobs at state agencies under the Florida Drug-Free Workplace Act. But the random drug testing of both state employees and welfare recipients is likely to run up against the US Constitution.

Federal courts have generally found that random testing of government workers who aren't in jobs that affect public safety amounts to a "search" by the government. Such searches must be "reasonable," generally, and some courts have interpreted such requirements of ordinary government workers as a violation of the US Constitution's Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches. A Michigan law requiring drug testing of welfare recipients was thrown out by the federal courts in 2003.

The ACLU of Florida attacked Scott's order, saying that a federal court had in 2004 already ruled that the state was violating the Fourth Amendment when the Department of Juvenile Justice instituted a random drug testing program. In that case, a US district judge ordered the agency to halt random drug testing and pay the worker who sued $150,000.

"I'm not sure why Gov. Scott does not know that the policy he recreated by executive order today has already been declared unconstitutional," ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon said in a statement. "The state of Florida cannot force people to surrender their constitutional rights in order to work for the state. Absent any evidence of illegal drug use, or assigned a safety-sensitive job, people have a right to be left alone."

While Gov. Scott is coming off as a hard-liner when it comes to drug testing poor people and state workers, he has also zeroed out the state drug czar's office and blocked the state from beginning a prescription drug tracking plan. But then, as the saying goes, consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.

Tallahassee, FL
United States

Mass Marijuana Arrest Policy Costs NYC Big Bucks

In a report released Tuesday, the Drug Policy Alliance charged that New York City's unwritten policy of mass arrests of pot smokers -- overwhelmingly young and minority -- is costing the city $75 million a year. The report, bluntly titled $75 Million a Year: The Cost of New York City's Marijuana Arrests, was co-authored by City University of New York professor and marijuana arrest expert Harry Levine.

drug arrest scene, "10 Rules for Dealing with Police," flexyourrights.org
Although New York state decriminalized marijuana possession in the 1970s, the NYPD has made it a practice to stop and frisk people by the hundreds of thousands a year and demand that they empty their pockets. When they produce marijuana from their pockets, they are then charged with public possession -- possession in plain view -- a misdemeanor.

The NYPD is arresting about a thousand pot smokers a week and has busted more than 350,000 of them during Mayor Michael Bloomberg's tenure in office. This is the same Mayor Bloomberg who once said he smoked marijuana and like it.

Bloomberg's and the NYPD's mass arrest policies cost the city big bucks in a time of economic difficulty. With Levine and his co-author Loren Siegel estimating the cost of arresting and prosecuting each pot possession offender at between $1,000 and $2,000, New York City has spent somewhere between $350 million and $700 million to persecute pot people since Bloomberg has been in office.

"More people have been arrested for marijuana possession under Mayor Bloomberg than under Mayors Koch, Dinkins, and Guiliani combined," said Levine at a City Hall news conference Tuesday. "These arrests are wildly expensive, do not improve public safety, and create permanent criminal records which seriously damage the life chances of the young people targeted and jailed," Levine said.

"Upwards of $75 million have been used to arrest NYC residents for marijuana possession that could have legally been handled with a summons and not a criminal offense," said City Council Member Jumaane Willimas. "This, as we are debating closing our senior centers. In addition, 86% of those arrests are young children of more color. I don't believe that this represents the percentage of people who take the occasional 'pull.'  It does however better reflect the communities abused by the current stop and frisk policies. Had this been 86% of our young children of a lighter shade, there would be uproar. I believe there still should be. All of our children are gifts to be nurtured; yet we are losing them to the system at an alarming rate. There must be a better way to deal with drugs in New York City. These arrests are simply about boosting arrest numbers and aren't the answer to our problems," said Williams.

"It is clear that the NYPD's current policy of giving high arrest priority to marijuana enforcement is fiscally wasteful, and has a greater impact on low-income communities where the 'war-on-drugs' has been primarily focused," said Council Member Letitia James. "Although African-Americans only constitute 13% of national of drug users, they make up 38% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 59% of those convicted of drug offenses. It is fair to say that the high priority given to marijuana enforcement directly relates to racial profiling in New York."

"The consequences of an arrest are severe, especially for young people of color who are already disproportionately arrested and incarcerated in juvenile facilities," said Kyung Ji Rhee, Director of the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives. "Young people of color are targeted, illegally searched and being put through the criminal justice system for possessing or smoking marijuana. Whatever your opinion may be on marijuana, this is no way to treat or teach young people about the choices they make."

"It is beyond hypocritical for the Mayor, who once said he smoked marijuana and enjoyed it, to make arresting young people of color for marijuana possession his top law enforcement priority," said Gabriel Sayegh, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "While cutting services for seniors, youth, housing, transportation, teachers, education, and more, the Mayor spent S75 million last year to arrest over 50,000 people for marijuana possession -- which isn’t even a crime under NY State law. It's just outrageous."

Will Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD see the light? Not without some political heat -- stay tuned.

New York, NY
United States

Police Officer Walks in Massachusetts Drug Raid Death

The Framingham, Massachusetts, SWAT team officer who shot and killed a 68-year-man lying prostrate on his apartment floor during a drug raid will face no criminal charges. The killing of Eurie Stamps was an "accident," according to a Wednesday report from the office of Middlesex County District Attorney's Gerard Leone.

DA Leone couldn't come up with a criminal charge (Image courtesy Middlesex County District Attorney's Office)
The report named the shooter as Officer Paul Duncan, who was part of a SWAT team enlisted to take part in a drug raid aimed at Stamps' grandson, Joseph Bushfan. Police arrested Bushfan outside the home before kicking down the door, throwing a stun grenade, and ordering everyone to the floor. Stamps had obeyed and was lying on the floor when Duncan attempted to cuff and frisk him.

"As he stepped to his left, (Duncan) lost his balance and began to fall over backwards," the report said. "Officer Duncan realized that his right foot was off the floor and the tactical equipment that he was wearing was making his movements very awkward. While falling, Officer Duncan removed his left hand from his rifle, which was pointing down towards the ground and put his left arm out to try and catch himself. As he did so, he heard a shot and then his body made impact with the wall. At that point, Officer Duncan, who was lying on the ground with his back against the wall, realized that he was practically on top of Mr. Stamps and that Mr. Stamps was bleeding. Officer Duncan immediately started yelling 'man down, man down.' Numerous SWAT members began calling for medics and alerting team members that there was a person down that needed medical attention. Officer Duncan told another officer on scene within moments of the incident that he had stumbled and lost his balance while moving to get in a better position, and as he was falling, his gun fired."

That was good enough for DA Leone: "The conclusion of this office is that the actions of Officer Duncan do not rise to the level of criminal conduct, and the shooting death of Eurie Stamps was an accident."

But it wasn't good enough for Stamps' family members and their attorneys. Both Stamps' widow and his children are pondering lawsuits in the case.

"Eurie Stamps’ death was the result of a fundamentally unjustifiable shooting by law enforcement officers who are charged with protecting public safety," said Anthony Tarricone, a lawyer representing Stamps’ children. "When an innocent man dies this way at the hands of police, there really are no excuses that can satisfactorily explain away such a tragedy," he told the Boston Herald.

"I don’t think it's right," said Adia Boston, Stamps' niece by marriage. "I think he should be suspended, at a minimum. There should be job loss, if not jail. That wasn't an accident... It shouldn't be an accident if it's the SWAT team. They're supposed to be trained."

Joseph Bardouille, the attorney representing Stamps' widow, said that the district attorney's report did not address serious questions about the shooting and that the family is undertaking a civil rights investigation.

"One of the purposes of the family's inquiry is to make sure SWAT officers throughout the commonwealth are trained," Bardouille said, noting experts have told him an officer's finger should not be on the trigger unless he is prepared to shoot. "They want to prevent something like this from happening again."

Officer Duncan remains on paid administrative leave while the Framingham Police Department finishes its investigation of the incident.

A civilian who shot an innocent man in these circumstances would be likely to face involuntary manslaughter charges at the least. But that is not the case when law enforcers investigate themselves.

Framingham, MA
United States

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Says It's Time to Decriminalize Minor Marijuana Use in Connecticut

Location: 
CT
United States
Malloy decided a long time ago that possession of small amounts of marijuana should not be treated as a criminal offense, and he wants Connecticut to join him. The Democratic governor's plan to reduce the penalty for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from a crime to an infraction that carries a fine is the subject of a public hearing Monday before the Legislature's Judiciary Committee.
Publication/Source: 
Stamford Advocate (CT)
URL: 
http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/local/article/Malloy-says-it-s-time-to-decriminalize-minor-1097903.php

New Jersey's Medical Marijuana Muddle [FEATURE]

More than a year after then Gov. Jon Corzine (D) signed New Jersey's Compassionate Use Act into law, it has yet to be implemented. Corzine's replacement, Gov. Chris Christie (R) first delayed implementing the program, then his Health Department promulgated draft regulations that the medical marijuana community and the legislature consider to be against both the spirit and the letter of the law.

Gov. Chris Christie (R) and bill sponsor Assemblyman Russ Gusiora (D)
It's unclear what will happen next. The Christie administration is moving forward with implementation, saying it is accepting applications for dispensaries, or alternative treatment centers (ATCs), although it won't name the applicants. But the legislature may move to invalidate all or part of the regulations, and if it does that, it isn't clear what that will mean for the program, either.

While the Assembly sponsor of the bill, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D), came to an agreement with Christie in December, the Senate sponsor, Sen. Nick Scutari (D) remains unhappy with the regulations. A call to his office Wednesday about his intentions had not been returned by press time.

The New Jersey medical marijuana law was already the most restrictive in the nation before the Christie administration moved to make it even more so. It allows patients suffering from certain debilitating and life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis to use and possess medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. It calls for the licensing of ATCs where qualifying patients could safely access medical marijuana. Patients cannot grow their own medicine.

A public hearing on the proposed regulations Monday saw almost unanimous condemnation of the regulations, as patients, providers, advocates, and family members lined up unleash volleys of criticism at the proposed rules. Only one person, a spokesman for Meadowlands Hospital in Secaucus, which has applied for an ATC permit, applauded the rules.

More typical was multiple sclerosis patient Sandy Faiola of Asbury Park. Riding a scooter to the microphone, Faiola asked why the state wants to limit the potency of medical marijuana to 10% THC, well below the levels obtained in medical marijuana strains used in other states.

Sen. Scutari and patient/activist Mike Oliveri after the January 2010 vote (cmmnj.org)
"Cannabis with THC levels of 10% or less may help some patient's needs, but not mine," she said. She also criticized a proposed $200 fee for caregivers as "excessive," especially since all caregivers can do in New Jersey is retrieve a housebound patient's medicine from the ATC. "My primary caregiver already spends many hours a month helping me do things like travel to appointments and pick up medicine, food and other things I need. Asking her to also pay $200 for a New Jersey permit in order to help me get this medicine is wrong," Faiola said.

"These regulations are unconstitutional; they are arbitrary and capricious," said attorney Justin Escher Alpert, a patient from Livingston. "They are against the spirit of the law."

"There's a big difference between ensuring that only qualified patients have access and ensuring that qualified patients do have access," said Jim Miller, whose late wife Cheryl died of multiple sclerosis and used medical marijuana for relief.

But while the public hearing sent a powerful message to the Christie administration, it is not clear that anyone is listening. Health Department representatives at the hearing took no questions, and the department has said only that it will review the testimony before making the regulations final in April.

"It's very disappointing," said Roseanne Scotti, head of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey office. "I don't know if the health department heard what got said, but they certainly got an earful."

"We don't expect any changes to come out of that hearing," said Ken Wolski, director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey. "The administration has demonstrated pretty clearly that Gov. Christie is making the decisions, and it doesn't really matter what we say."

"We hope the legislature will continue to follow through with what they started in December, when they passed resolutions saying the regulations were not consistent with the spirit or the the letter of the law," said Wolski. "The next step is for them to invalidate all or part of those regulations. We've already told the legislature exactly what is unacceptable."

"The administration is saying it isn't going to change anything, so the only thing that would radically change the regulations is if the legislature takes the next step and moves to invalidate them," said Scotti. "There is probably something going on behind the scenes between the administration and Scutari, but we don't have a definite answer on whether they will move to invalidate."

It is also unclear what would happen to the program if the legislature does move to invalidate some or all of the regulations. As noted above, the health department is taking applications for ATCs and will soon begin registering patients, so the program is moving toward implementation, even if it is badly flawed.

"We don't have a clear answer as to how this might play out," said Scotti. "The legislature can rewrite the regulations if they choose to, but they would still have to go through a process, and it could be a huge fight between the administration and the legislature. It could end up in a huge court battle."

"There is a provision in New Jersey law that would let the legislature invalidate part of the regulations," said Wolski. "If you took out the unacceptable parts, you would wind up with a much better program. It's incumbent on the legislature to really take charge here and show the department what are acceptable regulations."

"We are continuing to do everything we can to make our voices heard, we've turned out large numbers of people, but its looks like it's going to be a much longer battle than we thought it would be last January," said Scotti.

Trenton, NJ
United States

Kentucky Cuts Drug Sentences [FEATURE]

Kentucky has become the latest state to enact sentencing reforms in a bid to rein in skyrocketing corrections costs. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) last Thursday signed into law HB 463, a comprehensive corrections bill that will save the state millions of dollars a year, in part by sentencing drug possession offenders to probation instead of prison.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (Image courtesy Gage Bradshaw)
The bill was based on a multi-year collaboration between the Pew Center on the States Public Safety Performance Project and state officials. State officials and legislators working with the project convened a Task Force on the Penal Code and Controlled Substances Act and issued a January report that was the basis for the legislation.

"This overhaul of Kentucky's penal code is the result of a multi-year effort involving members of the executive, legislative and judicial branches," said Gov. Beshear. "Over the last three years, we've made headway with aggressive efforts to bring common sense to Kentucky's penal code, and our prison population has dropped each of the past three years. House Bill 463 helps us be tough on crime, while being smart on crime."

The new law calls for sentences of "presumptive probation" for small-time drug possession offenders, meaning they will get probation unless judges can offer a compelling reason why they should go to prison. It also calls for drug treatment to be made available for drug offenders. It reduces penalties for small-time drug dealing while increasing penalties for large-scale trafficking. And it shrinks "drug-free" zones from 1,000 yards to 1,000 feet.

The law also reduces sentences for small-time drug dealing. Sales of less than four grams of cocaine, two grams of heroin or methamphetamine, or 10 dosage units of other controlled substances will be reduced from a Class C felony to a Class D felony.

"Today, if you sell half a gram of rock cocaine, that's a Class C felony," said Van Ingram, director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. "When the new law goes into effect in 90 days, you will have to sell more than four grams to get Class C. That means instead of a five-to-ten-year sentence, you'll be looking at one-to-five," he told the Chronicle.

The new law lowers possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from a Class A misdemeanor worth up to a year in jail to a Class B misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of 45 days in jail, if any jail sentence is imposed.

It also requires reforms of the probation and parole system. It will create "graduated sanctions" for parole violators, allowing authorities to impose short jail stays instead of sending them back to prison for technical violations. And it removes drug offenses from consideration when judges impose sentencing enhancements based on previous felony convictions.

Roderer Correctional Complex
Although crime rates have remained steady or dropped, Kentucky's prison population has increased fourfold in the past two decades, from 5,000 in 1990 to more than 20,000 now. Drug offenders account for 25% of the prison population, but 38% of inmates admitted since 2000. The state's corrections budget this year is $460 million, and Kentucky is set to save nearly that much over the next decade by implementing the new sentencing structure.

"Of all the problems I inherited, this is one of the most complex," Gov. Beshear said. "In early 2008, I directed Justice & Public Safety Secretary J. Michael Brown to convene the Criminal Justice Council and report back on recommendations for curbing the rising prison population. That report, and the work of subsequent work groups, provided the groundwork for much of these reforms."

"This bill takes major steps to both decrease recidivism while addressing the unique problems Kentucky faces with substance abuse in ways that absolutely enhance public safety," said Brown.

"House Bill 463 is landmark legislation not only for the positive changes it proposes for our penal code, but also for the manner in which it became law," said Speaker Greg Stumbo. "Anytime you can bring together as many diverse groups as this bill did, and have them agree, you're on to something special. Rep. John Tilley and Sen. Tom Jensen did a tremendous job in getting this bill to the finish line."

"It is the most significant and meaningful piece of legislation that I have had the privilege to work on since being elected to the state legislature," said Sen. Tom Jenson, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "I am pleased that the Task Force on the Penal Code and Controlled Substances is going to continue studying these issues. We have gotten off to a great start and we need to continue working to make things better where we can."

"I'm pleased we're making progress in tackling the problems facing our penal code," Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr. said. "With all three branches involved in this deliberative process, I'm confident that the outcome will be positive for Kentucky."

"Senator Jensen, Representative Tilley, Senate President Williams and House Speaker Stumbo worked across party lines to look at the data and forge a comprehensive package of reforms that will get Kentucky taxpayers a better public safety return on their corrections dollars," said Richard Jerome, project manager of the Pew Center on the States Public Safety Performance Project. "The legislation employs research-based strategies to reduce recidivism, hold offenders accountable and maximize the state's limited financial resources."

Sentencing reforms are becoming increasingly popular as cash-strapped states face ever increasing budget pressures. South Carolina, Colorado, New York, and Texas are among states that have reformed sentencing and other corrections practices to lower imprisonment rates and save money. Similar efforts are pending in Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Sentencing reforms don't end drug prohibition, but they do somewhat reduce its inhumanity and its costs to society, as well as to the people busted for drug offenses. That's a start.

Lexington, KY
United States

"Bath Salts," Fake Marijuana Banned in Utah

Utah has become the latest state to ban new synthetic drugs. Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed into law Friday HB 23, which bans both synthetic cannabinoids and mephedrone, or "synthetic cocaine." The "emergency" measure went into effect immediately upon being signed by the governor.

No more buzz from Spice or "Bath Salts" in the Beehive State (Image via Wikimedia)
Synthetic cannabinoids are typically marketed as incense under brand names including Spice and K2. They are currently banned in more than a dozen states, with action pending in others. The DEA attempted to implement a nationwide ban as of Christmas Eve, but was blocked by legal moves on the part of retailers' groups until Tuesday, when a federal ban went into effect.

Mephedrone, a derivative of methcathinone, the stimulant substance found in the khat plant, is commonly sold as "bath salts," under names like Ivory Wave. Users report that it has cocaine-like or amphetamine-like effects. It has also been banned in Alabama, Florida, and Louisiana. The DEA has not yet moved against mephedrone.

The Utah law criminalizes 17 synthetic chemicals, all synthetic cannabinoid or methcathinone variants. They now go on the state's list of controlled substances, and their possession, sale, or manufacture becomes a criminal offense.

Gov. Herbert said after signing the bill that he didn't expect that to be the end of it. "Things change," he said. "What we face today is different than 10 years ago, and I expect my grandchildren will face different situations in the future."

Salt Lake City, UT
United States

Synthetic Marijuana Now Banned in Nebraska

Nebraska banned synthetic marijuana February 24, as an emergency measure passed by the legislature and signed a day earlier by Gov. Dave Heineman (R) went into effect.

No legal Spice for you, Cornhuskers! (Image via Wikimedia)
The bill, LB 19, adds a group of synthetic cannabinoid compounds to Schedule I of the state's Controlled Substances Act, and will punish their possession, production, and distribution like marijuana.

"It slams the door on manufacturers," said bill sponsor Sen. Beau McCoy (R), dealing a blow to the state's so far invisible synthetic pot manufacturing industry.

Synthetic cannabinoids mimic the effects of marijuana. The chemicals are typically sprayed on herbs and then packaged and marketed under names like Spice and K2. Such products began appearing in recent years and gained popularity as a legal alternative to pot, but their appearance also excited reflex prohibitionist instincts among police and politicians across the land.

Nebraska joins more than a dozen states that have moved against fake pot. The DEA had moved to ban the substances nationwide as of last Christmas Eve, but that effort had been blocked by organized retailers' groups until the DEA announced that the federal ban had gone into place Tuesday.

Lincoln, NE
United States

Indiana's Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels Talks About His Marijuana Use and Conviction

Location: 
IN
United States
In typical political fashion, Gov. Mitch Daniels admits to using marijuana while at Princeton, makes no mention of any downside except his conviction, and says he learned his "lesson."
Publication/Source: 
Politico (VA)
URL: 
http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0211/50093.html

Neither Treatment Nor Jail for California Drug Offenders [FEATURE]

California voters opted for treatment over prison for drug possession offenders when they passed Proposition 36 with 61% of the vote in 2000. But now, five years after voter-mandated funding for treatment expired, the deficit-wracked state government is refusing to ante up, equally cash-starved counties are refusing to fund treatment locally, and drug offenders are ending up with neither treatment nor jail.

California State Capitol, Sacramento
When Prop 36 was fully funded by voter mandate, people who were convicted of first- or second-time drug possession offenses and decided to opt in were placed on probation with the requirement that they enter treatment. Treatment was funded by the state. But after that initial five-year mandate, and as California's budget crisis worsened, state funding has shrunk each year, and waiting lists for treatment for Prop 36 offenders began to grow.

That's even as the program has proven a success. According to research conducted by UCLA, Prop 36 has reduced the number of people imprisoned for drug possession by 40%, or 8,000 people, saving taxpayers $400 million in corrections costs this year alone. Overall, Prop 36 has saved the state more than $2 billion in corrections costs.

Perversely, Prop 36 treatment didn't get a penny of it. Once the mandated funding of around $120 million a year expired, treatment funding fell from a high of $145 million in 2007-2008 to $118 million in 2008-2009, $18 million in 2009-2010, and zero last year. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has proposed zero funding for Prop 36 treatment again this year.

"Prop 36 has helped reduce the number of people incarcerated for drug possession by nearly half, but there are still 9,000 of them in prison," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director for Southern California for the Drug Policy Alliance, the group that sponsored Prop 36. "Most were never convicted of any serious or violent offense, but are there because they have a drug problem and multiple offenses. This is the same population that we've successfully been diverting from prison in huge numbers with no negative impact on public safety or on the taxpayers."

Prop 36's mandates are still in effect even if no one is allocating money to fund them. The court must still offer probation with the requirement that the offender goes to treatment, but now, instead of going to treatment, offenders go on a waiting list, which has grown weeks- and months-long as funding shrank, and which now may become endless.

"If you don't really need drug treatment, that's not a problem," said Dooley-Sammuli, "but if you have a drug problem, you are being put at a serious disadvantage. You're not getting the treatment you're entitled to under Prop 36 and you're at greater risk of being found in violation of probation and incarcerated."

With the prospect of help from the state legislature grim, counties are scrambling to figure out what to do. None of the options look very good.

"Long before we had financial support, long before there were funds to subsidize persons involved in the criminal justice system in our treatment services, we were seeing people ordered into treatment by the courts. We have just reverted back to those days," Haven Fearn, director of the Contra Costa County Health Services Department's Alcohol and Other Drug Services Division, told the Oakland Tribune. "We still offer treatment services to those individuals, but if the treatment slots are unavailable at the time the court orders it, many of them will have to go onto a waiting list."

Santa Cruz County announced that will "phase out" Prop 36 by no longer monitoring its participants, and other counties have suggested they will send offenders to Narcotics Anonymous. But counties that do not provide Prop 36 treatment could face lawsuits from Prop 36 offenders facing incarceration after failing three drug tests, if those those counties did not provide the treatment required by Prop 36.

"The counties can't opt out," said Dooley-Sammuli. "This is a sentencing statute. No county can end Prop 36. What they are choosing to end is the providing of treatment."

If legislators were smart, they would pay for treatment, said Dooley-Sammuli. "We hope they will realize that the state is crazy to not provide counties the resources to deal more effectively and more cost-effectively with people convicted of drug possession. Probation and treatment are both cheaper than jail. Not only should treatment be funded," she said, "but we know where to find it: In the $450 million currently locked up in the prison budget to incarcerate drug possessors."

Dooley-Sammuli also suggested California make possession a misdemeanor, not a felony. "The legislature recognizes that drug possession isn’t an offense that warrants incarceration in state prison, and we're asking that they follow through with what that really means," she said.

"Not only do we save money by making that a misdemeanor, we're also talking about making an important difference in the lives of people convicted of drug possession," she continued. "Having a felony on your record makes a huge difference in employment opportunities, lifetime earnings, being able to vote or adopt children, having custody of your own children, and other damaging collateral consequences."

If California isn't going to imprison drug possessors and it isn't going to provide them treatment, then perhaps it should just go ahead and decriminalize drug possession. Until it does, though, drug possession remains a felony in the Golden State. It's just that the state by law can't send offenders to prison and by choice won't pay to send them to treatment.

CA
United States

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