A poll conducted in late July and released over the weekend found that Colorado residents are ready for a new drug policy based on a public health rather than a law enforcement approach. The poll, conducted by Ridder/Braden Inc. and commissioned by the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, found that 83% of respondents believe the war on drugs has been ineffective, 86% think providing treatment and education to people with drug problems would reduce drug use, 80% think treatment and education would reduce drug-related crime, 73% think simple drug possession should be reduced from a felony to misdemeanor, and 59% view addiction as primarily a health problem, not a legal one.
"This comes as no surprise," said Christie Donner of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center. "It's in line with other recent voter polls from around the nation, and it is very similar to what I hear when I'm out talking to people," she told DRCNet. "The only thing that really surprised me was the extent of the agreement that the war on drugs is a failure. It crossed all demographic boundaries."
The poll, funded by a grant from The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation, could help lay the groundwork for new legislation or, if the legislature proves recalcitrant, an initiative similar to California's "treatment not jail" Proposition 36, which is now diverting thousands of Golden State drug offenders from prison into drug treatment.
"We'll use this polling data to show Colorado elected officials that the community strongly supports drug reform and treatment instead of jail," said Donner. "We hope we can convince the representatives that treatment is a good investment in our community."
One well-placed source told DRCNet Colorado could be in the sights for an initiative funded by the drug reform juggernaut that won victories last year in California, Colorado, Nevada and Utah. Donner said, however, that reform proponents would first attempt to work with the legislature.
"The Peace and Justice Center has run legislative campaigns on criminal justice and drug policy for the last three years," said Donner. "Last year, we supported a bill to repeal mandatory minimums and to exclude drug crimes from the habitual offender statute. We are part of an interim legislative committee looking at sentencing reform, looking at reducing sentences for simple possession, and looking at earmarking the money saved for drug treatment," she added.
"We'll see what ends up being proposed by the interim committee," Donner said. "If there is significant legislation, we will back it, but if it doesn't go far enough, we will consider the initiative process. We've been looking at funding our own initiative, but we certainly aren't averse to more money."
Donner told DRCNet that the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center's efforts are part of a larger campaign called the Colorado Prison Moratorium Coalition, a grouping of 85 churches and organizations which wants to stop new prison construction in the state and encourage alternatives to incarceration. The number of people imprisoned in Colorado has more than quintupled since 1985, from 3,000 then to 16,000 in January of this year. Drug offenders are the largest and fastest growing group of Colorado prisoners, constituting one-third of all women prisoners and one-fifth of all male prisoners.
(Visit the Colorado Prison Moratorium web site at http://www.prison-moratorium.org to view the survey results. Visit the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center at http://www.rmpjc.org online.