The Drug Debate

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Jamaica: Government Considering Marijuana Legalization, Official Says

The Jamaican government is considering whether to legalize or decriminalize marijuana as part of possible changes to the island nation's drug laws, an official told the Associated Press last Friday. The herb is revered by Jamaica's Rastafarians and widely consumed, grown, and trafficked in the Caribbean nation.

A seven-member government commission has been researching drug law reforms. Some Jamaican law enforcement officials have complained that marijuana cases clog the courts and jails.

"We have discussed it, and we are preparing a report to present to the prime minister," said Deputy Prime Minister Kenneth Baugh.

It wouldn't be the first time. A blue ribbon commission recommended in 2001 that the personal and religious use of marijuana be decriminalized, but lawmakers have failed to act since then, at least in part out of fears that the US would impose economic sanctions if they did. In 2003, the government said a decrim bill was coming soon, but five years later, we're still waiting.

Not So Fast -- Funny Numbers in the Same Old 2008 US National Drug Strategy Report

President Bush and Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) head John Walters rolled out the 2008 US National Drug Control Strategy over the weekend. While the administration used the strategy to defend its policies and make some claims of victories in the war on drugs, critics called the strategy misguided, dishonest, and an exercise in propaganda.

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George Bush with drug czar Walters, December 2007
"Today, my administration is releasing our 2008 National Drug Control Strategy," President Bush said in his weekly Saturday radio address. "This report lays out the methods we are using to combat drug abuse in America. And it highlights the hopeful progress we're making in the fight against addiction. Overall, an estimated 860,000 fewer young people in America are using drugs today than when we began these efforts."

The administration drug strategy has three key elements, Bush said: disrupting supplies, reducing demand, and providing treatment. "Our drug control strategy will continue all three elements of this successful approach," he said. "It will also target a growing problem -- the abuse of prescription drugs by youth."

The administration's drug strategy is working, claimed Bush and ONDCP, citing declines in youth marijuana, methamphetamine, and Ecstasy use. The strategy also pointed to short-term declines in cocaine and methamphetamine purity and availability, but acknowledged an increase in the misuse of prescription drugs.

"Teen drug abuse is down sharply, and this will provide lasting benefits to our nation, since we know that most adults who get caught in addiction begin with use as teens," said Walters. "But there are still too many of our friends, our family members, our coworkers and our neighbors who are becoming lost in the maze of addiction. We need to find whatever ways we can to create a turning point in their lives -- a turning point that leads to recovery."

"Prescription drugs provide tremendous benefits to our nation," said Walters, "but when misused or abused they can lead to addiction, and worse. We are working with leaders in Congress to modernize our laws to address the problem of 'rogue online pharmacies' which skirt around the safeguards of legitimate medical practice and prescriptions. Prescription drug abuse is an area of serious concern, and we are now focusing our nation's supply, demand, and prevention policies with the goal of seeing the same reductions that we have achieved for illegal 'street' drugs."

But despite new emphases like that on prescription drugs, the 2008 strategy is largely more of the same old drug policies. It touts programs like the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, random drug testing of students and workers, drug courts, and continued interdiction, eradication, and domestic law enforcement.

And critics call even its claims of success into question. "This isn't a strategy, it's a grab bag," said Doug McVay, research analyst for Common Sense for Drug Policy. "Anything they can spin as positive, they do. All in all, it's mainly a cute little propaganda piece. And what it obscures is the sad fact that they have gone back to that same old two-to-one spending ratio that favors law enforcement over prevention and treatment."

In an analysis by Appalachian State University criminal justice professor Matthew Robinson, coauthor of "Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics: A Critical Analysis of Claims Made by the Office of National Drug Control Policy," Robinson dissects the strategy and finds it wanting on many grounds.

Although teen marijuana and other illicit drug is indeed down during the Bush administration, prescription drug abuse is up, as the strategy acknowledges. That makes it difficult for the administration to honestly claim that teen drug use is down, Robinson suggested.

"Since this is the same time during which youth use of various drugs fell, is it possible youth began using more non-medical pain relievers as a form of drug substitution? ONDCP provides no evidence to assess this possibility," Robinson noted. "In the 2008 Strategy, ONDCP still does not consider the possibility that young drug users have not really stopped using illicit drugs like LSD, Ecstasy or meth, but instead have merely switched to more readily available prescription drugs. If true, this would suggest drug replacement rather than successful prevention."

Similarly, ONDCP's claim that drug use is down is the result of cherry-picking statistics, Robinson argued. While claiming success in reducing overall drug use, ONDCP only provides numbers on teen drug use -- not adult drug use.

"It is dishonest of ONDCP to claim success in meeting its goals of reducing drug use by 10% and 25% over two and five years, respectively, when ONDCP is only assessing drug use trends for young people and not adults," Robinson pointed out. "How can we know if ONDCP's efforts work when we are only shown data on youth drug trends and not adult drug trends?"

"ONDCP likes to play goofy with the math," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML. "NORML has been looking at these things for 30 years now, and they never achieve their stated goals. These guys have a $23 billion a year budget. If they were in corporate America, they would have been fired for incompetence."

The strategy's claim that it is balancing treatment, prevention, and law enforcement is also belied by the hard numbers, Robinson wrote. Despite budgetary sleight of hand beginning in 2003 that makes the proportion of drug war spending devoted to treatment and prevention appear larger than it really is, the treatment and prevention share of the budget continues to decline, with law enforcement -- the drug war -- garnering 65.2% of the overall budget next year, up from 56% in 2003.

"Unfortunately for ONDCP and our nation, research shows that the most effective and cost-effective drug reduction approaches are demand side approaches such as prevention and treatment," Robinson noted, adding that research has shown both treatment and prevention provide more bang for the buck than spending on law enforcement. "Most of the money in ONDCP's FY 2009 drug war budget is truly intended for 'fighting' the drug war, not for those efforts that are more cost-effective and efficacious -- preventing drug use and drug abuse and for healing drug abusers through treatment."

For NORML's St. Pierre, the strategy's section on medical marijuana was especially offensive. Titled "The Medical Marijuana Movement: Manipulation Not Medicine," the boxed section had little to do with policy but much to do with politics. It attacked medical marijuana, suggesting that each California patient was receiving 41 joints a day, and cited San Diego police complaining about nuisances around dispensaries.

"The section in there about medical marijuana is utterly gratuitous," said St. Pierre. "It doesn't have anything to do with the drug strategy; it is essentially just bullet talking points. And it is just downright silly. They try to say there are only 13,000 medical marijuana patients in California when we know the real number is probably ten times that. There are almost 19,000 patients in Oregon. It is utterly disingenuous of ONDCP to base its California numbers on a patient registry there, when there is no statewide registry."

ONDCP might have talked to other police departments in California that are not hostile to medical marijuana, unlike the San Diego police, who cooperated with federal agents to raid dispensaries there, said St. Pierre. "Did they talk to police in San Francisco or Los Angeles or even Modesto?" he asked. "Again, it looks like they are cherry-picking."

The drug strategy is 79 pages packed with figures, charts, and assertions. This article has only skimmed the surface of the claims and counterclaims around it. Readers who want to dig deeper are invited to read both the strategy and Robinson's analysis for more detail.

In the meantime, Robinson donned his professor's cap and tried to come up with a letter grade for the drug czar's effort. "I might give them a D for effort because the report is well-documented and has lots of pretty graphs in it," said Robinson, "but overall, it's just dishonest, so I would have to give them an F," he concluded.

To earn a passing grade, the drug strategy would have to be revamped, Robinson said. "It would need to clearly state the goals and budget of the drug war, and then it would report data on each of the goals, all the relevant data on drug use trends for every drug and age group, and data on availability, price, and purity for drug seizures. It would also present information on the cost of the drug war, including law enforcement and incarceration costs; deaths and illnesses associated with drugs, and data on crime and violence. It would have to be much more comprehensive, with all available data reported and long-term trend analyses," Robinson said.

Drug Truth Update 03/06/08

The Unvarnished Truth About the Drug War From the Drug Truth Network:. (To downlad these 29:00 files, click on links below. To simply listen, go to www.drugtruth.net and select the arrow below the shows description.) Cultural Baggage for 03/05/08 Catherine Austin Fitts, former HUD asst sec discusses the economic nightmare of the drug war + Poppygate report & Drug War Facts. MP3 LINK: http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/?q=audio/download/1791/FDBCB_030508.mp3 TRANSCRIPT: (Will be posted late on 03/06/08) Century of Lies for 03/04/08 Phil Smith of StopTheDrugWar.org discusses empowerment of criminals through the drug laws + Al Byrne of Patients Out of Time re med marijuana convention MP3 Link: http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/?q=audio/download/1790/COL_030408.mp3 TRANSCRIPT: http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/?q=node/1790#comments PLEASE NOTE: We now have transcripts, potcasts, searchability, CMS, XML, sorts by guest name and by organization. Next - Century of Lies on Tues, Cutural Baggage on Wed: - Cultural Baggage 12:30 PM ET, 11:30 AM CT, 10:30 AM MT & 9:30 AM PT: TBD - Century of Lies 12:30 PM ET, 11:30 AM CT, 10:30 AM MT & 9:30 AM PT: TBD Hundreds of our programs are available online at www.drugtruth.net, www.audioport.org and at www.radio4all.net. We provide the "unvarnished truth about the drug war" to scores of broadcast affiliates in the US and Canada. Programs produced at Pacifica Radio Station KPFT in Houston. www.kpft.org Check out our latest videos via www.youtube.com/fdbecker: More than 50 Drug Policy Videos online) Please become part of the solution, visit our website: www.endprohibition.org for links to the best of reform. "Prohibition is evil." - Reverend Dean Becker, Drug Truth Network Producer Dean Becker 713-849-6869 www.drugtruth.net
Location: 
United States

Drug Policy - Public Health or Criminal Justice Issue? - UBC Continuing Studies

[Courtesy of UBC Continuing Studies Series] 

If you missed this engaging series of free panel discussions facilitated by Stephen Owen, UBC Vice President, External, Legal and Community Relations, webcasts of each session are available below.

In communities across Canada, discussions are going on – public and private – about how to deal effectively with the growing problem of illicit drug use. Decisions are being made about how to educate our young people and how to allocate public money.

Vancouver has been at the centre of the drug debate since 1995. It has led the way in taking public action, researching the effect of different strategies and considering current community attitudes.

At this time of escalating concern about drug and alcohol problems, and drug-related crime, this series looks at a wide spectrum of perspectives and research – often conflicting – to consider what information is useful in guiding us as parents, co-workers and citizens.

Drug Policy

 

February 13:

Where Should Public Health End and Criminal Justice Begin?

 

To view a webcast of this session, please click here webcast.

With Larry Campbell, Canadian Senator, past Vancouver Mayor and past BC Coroner; Dr. Brian Emerson, BC Ministry of Health, medical consultant and Secretary, Health Officers Council and Inspector Scott Thompson, Vancouver Police Department, Drug Policy Unit.

 

 

February 20:

What Do We Tell the Kids?

 

To view a webcast of this session, please click here webcast.

With Dr. Rick Mathias, UBC Professor of Health Care and Epidemiology (with expertise on toxicity of drugs on the body); Sergeant Bob Hall, RCMP (responsible for drug prevention initiatives for the RCMP in BC); and Dan Reist, Director of Communication and Resource Centre, Centre for Addictions Research (developed substance abuse and mental health programs and resources for BC schools).

 

 

February 27:

How Should Public Money Be Spent?

 

To view a webcast of this session, please click here webcast.

With Philip Owen, past Vancouver Mayor and leader of the Four Pillars Approach; Stephen Easton, SFU economist and Senior Scholar at the Fraser Institute (author of The Costs of Crime: Who Pays and How Much ) and Penny Ballem, past Deputy Minister, BC Health and Health Care expert.

Location: 
Vancouver, BC
Canada

4:20 Drug War News Update: 03/03/08

Drug Truth Network Update: 4:20 Drug War NEWS from 90.1 FM in Houston & on the web at www.kpft.org. We provide the "unvarnished truth about the drug war" to scores of broadcast affiliates in the US and Canada. 4:20 Drug War NEWS 03/03/08 to 03/09/08 now online (3:00 ea:) Select online at www.drugtruth.net Mon - Remembering William F. Buckley Jr. Tue - "Drug War Gets Bloodier" - Dallas Morning News Wed - Doug McVay with Drug War Facts & Obama quote on drug war Thu - Poppygate Report with Glenn Greenway Fri - Martin Terry, Prof of Botany at Sul Ross discusses depletion of peyote crop in S. Texas 1 of 3 Sat - Martin Terry, Prof of Botany at Sul Ross discusses depletion of peyote crop in S. Texas 2 of 3 Sun - Martin Terry, Prof of Botany at Sul Ross discusses depletion of peyote crop in S. Texas 3 of 3 Next - Century of Lies on Tues, Cutural Baggage on Wed (Now With Transcripts): - Cultural Baggage 12:30 PM ET, 11:30 AM CT, 10:30 AM MT & 9:30 AM PT: Catherine Austin Fitts - Century of Lies 12:30 PM ET, 11:30 AM CT, 10:30 AM MT & 9:30 AM PT: Phil Smith of Stop the Drug War Hundreds of our programs are available online at www.drugtruth.net, www.audioport.org and at www.radio4all.net. Check out our latest videos via www.youtube.com/fdbecker: Please become part of the solution, visit our website: www.endprohibition.org for links to the best of reform. "Prohibition is evil." - Reverend Dean Becker, Drug Truth Network Producer Dean Becker 713-849-6869 www.drugtruth.net
Location: 
United States

Drug Truth Update 02/28/08

The Unvarnished Truth About the Drug War From the Drug Truth Network:. (To downlad these 29:00 files, click on links below. To simply listen, go to www.drugtruth.net and select the arrow below the shows description.) Cultural Baggage for 02/27/08 Professor Martin Terry of Sul Ross University discusses the legal peyote trade in the US and Mexico and it's use by the Native American Church. MP3 LINK: http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/?q=audio/download/1782/FDBCB_022708.mp3 TRANSCRIPT: (Will be posted late on 02/28/08) Century of Lies for 02/26/08 LEAP speaker Dean Becker interviews Mark Bennett, incoming head of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association regarding the DA scandal, the jail scandal, the decades long and ineffective waging of the drug war. Pt 2 MP3 Link: http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/?q=audio/download/1774/COL_022608.mp3 TRANSCRIPT: http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/?q=node/1774#comments PLEASE NOTE: We now have transcripts, potcasts, searchability, CMS, XML, sorts by guest name and by organization. Next - Century of Lies on Tues, Cutural Baggage on Wed: - Cultural Baggage 12:30 PM ET, 11:30 AM CT, 10:30 AM MT & 9:30 AM PT: TBD - Century of Lies 12:30 PM ET, 11:30 AM CT, 10:30 AM MT & 9:30 AM PT: TBD Hundreds of our programs are available online at www.drugtruth.net, www.audioport.org and at www.radio4all.net. We provide the "unvarnished truth about the drug war" to scores of broadcast affiliates in the US and Canada. Programs produced at Pacifica Radio Station KPFT in Houston. www.kpft.org Check out our latest videos via www.youtube.com/fdbecker: More than 50 Drug Policy Videos online) Please become part of the solution, visit our website: www.endprohibition.org for links to the best of reform. "Prohibition is evil." - Reverend Dean Becker, Drug Truth Network Producer Dean Becker 713-849-6869 www.drugtruth.net
Location: 
United States

In Memoriam: William F. Buckley, Conservative Supporter of Drug Legalization

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William F. Buckley
William F. Buckley, the dean of American conservatism and advocate of drug legalization, died Wednesday at his home in Connecticut. He was 82.

Buckley, the scion of a wealthy Connecticut family, came to public prominence with the 1951 publication of "God and Man at Yale," a searing critique of what he saw as agnostic and collectivist tendencies among the faculty and curriculum of his alma mater. In 1955, he founded the National Review, the magazine that became the leading voice of post-war American conservatism and helped lead to the conservative renaissance that resulted in the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

While Buckley spent much of his career fighting for main-line conservative causes like smaller government, he also used the National Review and his decades-long stint as the host of PBS' "Firing Line" to advance his views in favor of the legalization of drugs. Along with figures like Milton Friedman and George Schulz, Buckley was among the first conservatives to adopt an overtly pro-legalization position.

Writing in the National Review in 1996, Buckley made the case for legalization:

"A conservative should evaluate the practicality of a legal constriction, as for instance in those states whose statute books continue to outlaw sodomy, which interdiction is unenforceable, making the law nothing more than print-on-paper. I came to the conclusion that the so-called war against drugs was not working, that it would not work absent a change in the structure of the civil rights to which we are accustomed and to which we cling as a valuable part of our patrimony. And that therefore if that war against drugs is not working, we should look into what effects the war has, a canvass of the casualties consequent on its failure to work."

In that same article, Buckley expressed abhorrence at the degree to which drug war zealotry infected the criminal justice system:

"I have not spoken of the cost to our society of the astonishing legal weapons available now to policemen and prosecutors; of the penalty of forfeiture of one's home and property for violation of laws which, though designed to advance the war against drugs, could legally be used -- I am told by learned counsel -- as penalties for the neglect of one's pets. I leave it at this, that it is outrageous to live in a society whose laws tolerate sending young people to life in prison because they grew, or distributed, a dozen ounces of marijuana. I would hope that the good offices of your vital profession would mobilize at least to protest such excesses of wartime zeal, the legal equivalent of a My Lai massacre. And perhaps proceed to recommend the legalization of the sale of most drugs, except to minors."

Buckley's erudition, extensive vocabulary, and famously darting tongue, as well as his life-long commitment to conservative principles made him an iconic figure of the late 20th Century. His principled embrace of drug legalization made it all the easier for other conservatives to follow in his footsteps. Hopefully more will follow.

4:20 Drug War NEWS: 02/25/08

Drug Truth Network Update: 4:20 Drug War NEWS from 90.1 FM in Houston & on the web at www.kpft.org. We provide the "unvarnished truth about the drug war" to scores of broadcast affiliates in the US and Canada. 4:20 Drug War NEWS 02/25/08 to 03/02/08 now online (3:00 ea:) Select online at www.drugtruth.net Mon - Drug War Facts & LSD in the UK Tue - Frame Up Falls Apart in Pennsylvania Wed - "Drug Warriors Prayer" + DTN Editorial Thu - Mark Bennett, the incoming Pres of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers association discusses ramifications of the drug war Pt 1 Fri - Mark Bennett, the incoming Pres of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers association discusses ramifications of the drug war Pt 2 Sat - Mark Bennett, the incoming Pres of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers association discusses ramifications of the drug war Pt 3 Sun - Mark Bennett, the incoming Pres of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers association discusses ramifications of the drug war Pt 4 Next - Century of Lies on Tues, Cutural Baggage on Wed (Now With Transcripts): - Cultural Baggage 12:30 PM ET, 11:30 AM CT, 10:30 AM MT & 9:30 AM PT: TBD - Century of Lies 12:30 PM ET, 11:30 AM CT, 10:30 AM MT & 9:30 AM PT: TBD Hundreds of our programs are available online at www.drugtruth.net, www.audioport.org and at www.radio4all.net. Check out our latest videos via www.youtube.com/fdbecker: Please become part of the solution, visit our website: www.endprohibition.org for links to the best of reform. "Prohibition is evil." - Reverend Dean Becker, Drug Truth Network Producer Dean Becker 713-849-6869 www.drugtruth.net
Location: 
United States

Drug Truth Update 02/21/08

The Unvarnished Truth About the Drug War From the Drug Truth Network:. (To downlad these 29:00 files, click on links below. To simply listen, go to www.drugtruth.net and select the arrow below the shows description.) Cultural Baggage for 02/20/08 Mark Bennett, incoming head of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association regarding the DA scandal, the jail scandal, the decades long waging of the drug war MP3 LINK: http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/?q=audio/download/1773/FDBCB_022008.mp3 TRANSCRIPT: (Will be posted late on 02/21/08) Century of Lies for 02/19/08 The top 12 most dangerous drugs, according to the Lancet and as produced by the BBC. MP3 Link: http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/?q=audio/download/1772/COL_021908.mp3 TRANSCRIPT: No Transcript of this show this week PLEASE NOTE: We now have transcripts, potcasts, searchability, CMS, XML, sorts by guest name and by organization. Next - Century of Lies on Tues, Cutural Baggage on Wed: - Cultural Baggage 12:30 PM ET, 11:30 AM CT, 10:30 AM MT & 9:30 AM PT: TBD - Century of Lies 12:30 PM ET, 11:30 AM CT, 10:30 AM MT & 9:30 AM PT: TBD Hundreds of our programs are available online at www.drugtruth.net, www.audioport.org and at www.radio4all.net. We provide the "unvarnished truth about the drug war" to scores of broadcast affiliates in the US and Canada. Programs produced at Pacifica Radio Station KPFT in Houston. www.kpft.org Check out our latest videos via www.youtube.com/fdbecker: More than 50 Drug Policy Videos online) Please become part of the solution, visit our website: www.endprohibition.org for links to the best of reform. "Prohibition is evil." - Reverend Dean Becker, Drug Truth Network Producer Dean Becker 713-849-6869 www.drugtruth.net
Location: 
United States

Stop Filling Prisons, California -- Advocates to Take Sentencing Reform Case to Voters

California's prison system is in crisis. With some 172,000 inmates, the state's prison system is second only to the federal system in size, and its budget has ballooned by 79% in the last five years to nearly $8 billion annually. Still, the system is vastly overcrowded and faces two federal class-action suits seeking to cap inmate populations because overcrowding is resulting in the state not delivering constitutionally adequate medical and mental health care.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/prison-overcrowding.jpg
overcrowding at Mule Creek State Prison (from cdcr.ca.gov)
In December, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced he was considering a plan to release some 22,000 nonviolent inmates early in response to the festering crisis. But that one-shot approach would not deal with the systemic problems and policies that created the prison crisis in the first place.

Now, after years of inaction in Sacramento in the face of the crisis, a well-funded initiative campaign that would result in a seismic shift in California sentencing and prison policies, especially when it comes to drug offenders and those whose offenses are related to their problematic drug use, has gotten underway. Dubbed the Non-Violent Offender Rehabilitation Act (NORA), the initiative would dramatically expand the treatment and diversion options made available under a previous reform initiative, Proposition 36, as well as reform parole and probation programs, and make simple marijuana possession an infraction instead of a misdemeanor.

About 35,000 California inmates, or about 20% of the prison population, are doing time for drug offenses. An unknown number, certainly in the thousands and possibly in the tens of thousands, are doing time for offenses related to their drug use. It is these offenders and their future brethren at whom the NORA initiative is aimed.

Sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance Network, the lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance and the Santa Monica-based Campaign for New Drug Policies, the people who engineered the successful Prop. 36 campaign, the NORA initiative would:

  • Create a multi-track diversion program for adult offenders. Track I provides for treatment for nonviolent drug possession offenders with a plea held in abeyance during treatment. For those who wash out of Track I, Track II provides Prop 36-style treatment after conviction, with graduated sanctions for probation violations, including eventual jail time. Track III is an expansion of existing drug court programs, with stronger sanctions than the other tracks. Judges would have the discretion to use Track III not only for drug offenders, but for any non-violent offenders whose crimes are linked to their drug use. Track III would be mandatory for those identified as "high-cost offenders" (five arrests in the past 30 months). The initiative would fund the diversion and treatment program at $385 million per year.
  • Create drug treatment programs for youth. NORA would invest about $65 million a year to build a prevention and treatment program for young people where none currently exists.
  • Require California prisons to provide rehabilitation programs to all exiting inmates at least 90 days before release and for up to a year after release at state expense.
  • Allow nonviolent prisoners to earn sentence reductions with good behavior and by participating in rehabilitation programs.
  • Cut parole periods for qualifying nonviolent offenders to between six and 12 months, instead of the current up to three years. Early discharge from parole could be gained with completion of a rehabilitation program.
  • Make simple marijuana possession an infraction (ticketing offense) instead of a misdemeanor.

Not only would NORA mean freedom for thousands of nonviolent drug and drug-related offenders, it would also save California billions of dollars. Prop. 36 is estimated to have saved at least $1.3 billion in five years by diverting offenders to treatment, and the California Legislative Analyst's Office projects that NORA could generate a billion dollars a year in savings for the prison system, as well as obviating the need for a one-time prison-building outlay of $2.5 billion.

Paid canvassers for NORA are already hitting the streets in California. They have until April 21 to gather some 435,000 valid signatures to put the measure on the November ballot. NORA will make that goal, organizers vowed.

"We've just announced this to our members and started gathering signatures," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli of the Southern California office of the Drug Policy Alliance Network. "We're very excited. It looks like the largest sentencing and prison reform in American history will be on the November ballot."

"This is Prop 36 on steroids," said Dale Gieringer, executive director of California NORML. "If it passes, this will lead to a comprehensive rewrite of all of California's laws regarding sentencing, probation, and parole for nonviolent, drug-related offenses. And this is a professional campaign. The measure will be on the ballot in November," he flatly predicted.

"Prop. 36 has been such a success, it has been extensively studied and proven, but the biggest problem is that it isn't big enough," said Dooley-Sammuli. "Combined with the difficulty of getting any prison reform through and of even obtaining adequate funding for existing reforms because of the impasse in Sacramento -- we've seen so many prison reforms die there -- we thought we really needed to put this on the ballot for stable funding, more treatment, and more diversion," she said.

"But NORA is not just about expanding Prop. 36," Dooley-Sammuli was quick to point out. "This is primarily a prison and sentencing reform effort. It brings common sense solutions to the problem of over-incarceration in California, especially the over-incarceration of nonviolent offenders in this state."

"The state has been incredibly reluctant and negligent in addressing the whole problem of nonviolent prisoners," said Gieringer. "Every effort to extricate drug offenders from the prison system has been seen as a political hot potato and has gone nowhere. Sentencing reform is political poison in Sacramento, yet we have this simmering prison crisis here in California."

If the politicians refuse to act, said Gieringer, it is time to take the issue directly to the voters. "This initiative is very justified because of the negligence of California's political class in not dealing with these issues," he said. "In fact, it is overdue, and now we the people have to try to come to grips with the failure of our political leaders to act. And I think we have the public on our side. The polling on this has been very favorable. Most people think nonviolent drug offenses should be handled with treatment, not prison."

"We have federal judges considering whether to take over the entire state prison system," said Dooley-Sammuli. "We don't have solutions coming out of Sacramento. We have very real budget problems that mean we can't afford to keep spending what we are on incarceration. NORA reallocates state spending from incarceration to treatment and rehabilitation, so we will end up with substantial savings over time," she predicted.

Gov. Schwarzenegger's move to release some prisoners early is necessary, but not sufficient, said Dooley-Sammuli. What is needed is not one-shot fixes, but systemic reforms, she said. "NORA is not a one-time opening of the jailhouse gates," said Dooley-Sammuli, "This is about systemic change in our sentencing and parole practices. This is not radical; it's common sense. This is not soft on crime; this is smart on crime. NORA will allow us to get past the politicking and get some solutions."

At this point early in the campaign season, there is no organized opposition, but that is almost certain to change. Too many powerful groups, from prosecutors to prison guards, benefit from the status quo, and fear-mongering on crime issues is a perennial favorite among politicians.

"The question is whether there will be any well-funded political opposition," said Gieringer. "Then there might be a real fight. But we haven't seen an opposition committee form yet. That's the real question mark."

NORA organizers have done their best to blunt opposition at the early stages by bringing potential opponents into the process, said Dooley-Sammuli. "We made many, many efforts to make this a collaborative process by reaching out to a wide variety of stakeholders. This has been a broad effort to bring in as many perspectives and sets of expertise as possible, and we've tried to make friends instead of foes," she said.

Coerced drug treatment is not the best of all possible worlds. But it's difficult to argue that drug law violators are better off in prison than in treatment. The NORA initiative will give California voters a chance to take a giant step in sentencing and prison reform and a small step toward true justice for drug users.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School