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Feature: Gazing Into the Crystal Ball -- What Can We Expect in 2009?

In the other feature article in this issue, we looked back at last year, examining the drug policy high and lows. Here, we look forward, and not surprisingly, see some of the same issues. With a prohibitionist drug policy firmly entrenched, many issues are perennial -- and will remain issues until they are resolved.
gazing into the future of drug policy reform '09 (picture from
Of course, America's drug war does not end at our borders, so while there is much attention paid to domestic drug policy issues, our drug policies also have an important impact on our foreign policy. In fact, Afghanistan, which is arguably our most serious foreign policy crisis, is inextricably intertwined with our drug wars, while our drug policies in this hemisphere are also engendering crisis on our southern border and alienation and loss of influence in South America.

Medical Marijuana in the States

In November, Michigan voters made it the 13th medical marijuana state and the first in the Midwest. Now, nearly a quarter of the US population resides in medical marijuana states, and it is likely that number will increase this year. Legislative efforts are underway in Kansas, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York, among others, and chances are one or more of them will join the club this year. Interest in medical marijuana is also emerging in some unlikely places, such as Idaho, where one legislator has vowed to introduce a bill this year, and South Dakota, where activists who were defeated at the polls in 2006 are trying to get a bill in the legislature this month.

California's Grand Experiment with Medical Marijuana

As with so many other things, when it comes to medical marijuana, California is a different world. With its broadly written law allowing virtually anyone with $150 for a doctor's visit to seek certification as a a registered medical marijuana patient, and with its thriving system of co-ops, collectives, and dispensaries, the Golden State has created a situation of very low risk for consumers and significant protections even for growers and sellers.

With tax revenue streams from the dispensaries now pouring into the state's cash-starved coffers, medical marijuana is also creating political facts on the ground. The state of California is not going to move against a valuable revenue generator.

And if President-Elect Obama keeps his word, the DEA will soon butt out, too. But even if he doesn't, and the raids against dispensaries continue, it seems extremely unlikely that the feds can put the genie back in the bottle. The Bush administration tried for eight years and managed to shut down only a small fraction of operators, most of whom were replaced by competitors anyway.

The state's dispensary system, while currently a patch-work with some areas well-served with stores and other whole counties without any, is also a real world model of what regulated marijuana sales can look like. Despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth by pot foes, the dispensaries have, for the most part, operated non-problematically and as good commercial and community neighbors.

California's medical marijuana regime continues to evolve as the state comes to grips with the reality the voters created more than a decade ago. We will continue to watch and report as -- perhaps -- California leads the way to taxed and regulated marijuana sales, and not just for patients.

What Will Obama Do?

It will be a new era in Washington, DC, when President-Elect Obama becomes President Obama in less than three weeks. While the president cannot pass laws, he can provide leadership to the Congress and use his executive powers to make some changes, such as calling off the DEA in California, which he has promised to do.

The one thing we know he will not do is try to legalize marijuana. In response to publicly generated questions about marijuana legalization, his team has replied succinctly: No.
What will President Obama do?
One early indicator of Obama's proclivities will be his selection of a replacement for John Walters, the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. While there has been speculation about some possible candidates, none of them very exciting for drug policy reformers, no candidate has yet been named.

President Obama will also submit budgets to Congress. Those documents will provide very clear indications of his priorities on matters of interest to the reform community, from the controversial program of grants to fund anti-drug law enforcement task forces to spending levels for drug prevention and treatment, as well as funding for America's foreign drug war adventures.

The conventional wisdom is that Obama is not going to expend political capital trying to undo decades of drug war policies, but perhaps the budget axe will do the talking. Goodness knows, we don't have any money to waste in the federal budget these days.

What Will the Congress Do?

Democrats now control not only the White House, but both houses of Congress. One area we will be watching closely is the progress, if any, of federal sentencing reform. There are now more than 100,000 federal drug war prisoners, too many of them low-level crack offenders serving draconian sentences thanks to the efforts of people like Vice President elect Joe Biden, a long-time congressional drug warrior. Several different crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity bills have been introduced. The best was authored by Biden himself, a sign of changing times, if only slowly changing. It is past time for one of these bills, hopefully a good one, to pass into law.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced a federal marijuana decriminalization bill last year. The best prediction is that it will go nowhere, but we could always stand to be pleasantly surprised.

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), head of the House Judiciary Committee, has emerged as a strong critic of federal interference in state medical marijuana programs. Conyers could use his position to highlight that issue, and possibly, to introduce legislation designed to address the problem of federal interference.

One area where the Congress, including the Democratic leadership, has proven vulnerable to the politics of tough on crime is the federal funding of those anti-drug task forces. In a rare fit of fiscal sanity, the Bush administration has been trying for years to zero out those grants, but the Congress keeps trying to get them back in the budget -- and then some. We will be watching those funding battles this year to see if anything has changed.
Coca Museum, La Paz, Bolivia

With the death toll from prohibition-related violence topping 5,000 last year, Mexico is in the midst of a multi-sided war that is not going to end in the foreseeable future, especially given America's insatiable appetite for the forbidden substances that are making Mexican drug trafficking organizations obscenely wealthy. With the $1.4 billion anti-drug military and police assistance known as Plan Merida approved last year by the Bush administration and the Congress, the US is now investing heavily in escalating the violence.

The National Drug Information Center has identified Mexican drug trafficking organizations as the nation's number one criminal threat, and chances are the violence south of the border will begin to ooze across the line. That will only add to the pressure among law enforcement and political figures to "do something." But given the current mindset among policymakers, just about anything they may be inclined to do to "help" is unlikely to be helpful.

The cartel wars in Mexico are also having an impact on Mexican domestic politics, with President Felipe Calderón's popularity suffering a significant decline. The angst over the escalating violence has already provided an opening for talk about drug policy reform in Mexico, with the opposition PRD saying that legalization has to be on the table, and Calderón himself announcing he wants to decriminalize drug possession (although how that would have any noticeable impact on the traffic or the violence remains unclear).

Look for the violence to continue, and watch to see if the resulting political pressure results in any actual policy changes. Drug War Chronicle will likely be heading down to Tijuana before too long for some on-scene reporting.

The Andean Drug War

... is not going well. Despite pouring billions of dollars into Plan Colombia, coca production there is at roughly the same level as a decade ago. Cocaine exports continue seemingly immune to all efforts to suppress them, although more appears to be heading for Europe these days. During the Bush administration, the US war on drugs in Colombia has morphed into openly supporting the Colombian government's counterinsurgency war against the leftist FARC rebels, who have been weakened, but, flush with dollars from the trade, are not going away. Neither are the rightist paramilitary organizations, who also benefit from the trade. Will an Obama administration try something new?

Meanwhile, Bolivia and Venezuela, the only countries singled out by the Bush administration as failing to comply with US drug policy objectives, have become allies in an emerging leftist bloc that seeks to challenge US hegemony in the region. Both countries have thrown out the DEA -- Venezuela in 2005, Bolivia last fall -- and are cooperating to expand markets for Bolivia's nascent coca industry. Bolivian President Evo Morales acknowledged this week that some coca production is being diverted to cocaine traffickers, but said that he does not need US help in dealing with it.

And in Peru, where President Alan García has sent out the army to eradicate coca crops in line with US policy, unrest is mounting in coca growing regions, coca farmers are pushing into indigenous territories, causing more problems, and the Shining Path insurgency, once thought decisively defeated, has reemerged, although apparently minus its Maoist ideology, as a criminal trafficking organization and protector of coca farmers. The Peruvian government blames the Shining Path for killing 25 soldiers, police, and anti-drug workers in ambushes last year. Look for that toll to increase this year.
Afghan opium

More than seven years after the US invaded to overthrow the Taliban and destroy Al Qaeda, Afghanistan is the world's largest opium producer, and has been each year since the Taliban were driven from power. While US drug war imperatives remain strong, they are in conflict with the broader objectives of the counterinsurgency there, and any efforts to suppress poppy planting or the opium trade will not only have a huge impact on the national economy, but are likely to drive Afghan farmers into the waiting arms of the resurgent Taliban, which is estimated to make hundreds of millions of dollars a year off taxing and protecting the trade. That buys a lot of guns to point at Afghan, American and NATO troops.

President elect Obama has vowed to reinvigorate the US war in Afghanistan by sending 20,000 additional troops, and NATO has reluctantly agreed to attack the drug trade by going after traffickers linked to the Taliban or various warlords -- but not those linked to the government in Kabul. Last year was the bloodiest year yet for coalition forces in Afghanistan; look for this year to top it.

Press Conference Release of "We Can Do It Again" Report on Benefits of Repealing Drug Prohibition

On Tuesday, December 2, a group of law enforcers who fought on the front lines of the "war on drugs" and witnessed its failures will commemorate the 75th anniversary of alcohol prohibition's repeal by calling for drug legalization. The cops, judges and prosecutors will release a report detailing how many billions of dollars can be used to boost the ailing economy when drug prohibition is ended. "America's leaders had the good sense to realize that we couldn't afford to keep enforcing the ineffective prohibition of alcohol during the Great Depression," said Terry Nelson, a 30-year veteran federal agent and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). "Now, cops fighting on the front lines of today's 'war on drugs' are working to make our streets safer and help solve our economic crisis by teaching lawmakers a lesson from history about the failure of prohibition. We can do it again." ***phone press conference also available*** "We Can Do It Again: Repealing Today's Failed Prohibition," highlights how the "war on drugs" - just like alcohol prohibition - subsidizes violent gangsters, endangers public health and diminishes public respect for the rule of law. The report also details how the newer prohibition comes with the much graver threat of international cartels and terrorists who profit from illegal drug sales. Yet, it leaves readers on a hopeful note. "We're starting to see an emerging consensus that drug prohibition just doesn't make sense," said Seattle's retired Police Chief Norm Stamper, a LEAP member. "Three out of four Americans now say the 'war on drugs' has failed, and so do the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators and the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators. Now, it's up to the new administration and Congress to follow through." More information about LEAP and a copy of the report will be uploaded at
Tue, 12/02/2008 - 10:00am
529 14th Street, NW, 13th Fl.
Washington, DC
United States

Press Release: Cops Say Legalizing Drugs Can Boost Economy by Billions

NEWS ADVISORY: November 24, 2008 CONTACT: Tom Angell, LEAP - (202) 557-4979 or [email protected] Cops Say Legalizing Drugs Can Boost Economy by Billions 75th Anniversary of Alcohol Prohibition's End Inspires Modern Effort WASHINGTON, D.C. - On Tuesday, December 2, a group of law enforcers who fought on the front lines of the "war on drugs" and witnessed its failures will commemorate the 75th anniversary of alcohol prohibition's repeal by calling for drug legalization. The cops, judges and prosecutors will release a report detailing how many billions of dollars can be used to boost the ailing economy when drug prohibition is ended. "America's leaders had the good sense to realize that we couldn't afford to keep enforcing the ineffective prohibition of alcohol during the Great Depression," said Terry Nelson, a 30-year veteran federal agent and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). "Now, cops fighting on the front lines of today's 'war on drugs' are working to make our streets safer and help solve our economic crisis by teaching lawmakers a lesson from history about the failure of prohibition. We can do it again." WHO: Federal agents, street cops, detectives, corrections officials and a Harvard economist WHAT: Release of "We Can Do It Again" report on benefits of repealing drug prohibition WHEN: Tuesday, December 2, 2008 @ 10:00 AM WHERE: National Press Club; Zenger Room; 529 14th Street, NW; 13th Fl.; Washington, DC ***phone press conference also available*** "We Can Do It Again: Repealing Today's Failed Prohibition," highlights how the "war on drugs" - just like alcohol prohibition - subsidizes violent gangsters, endangers public health and diminishes public respect for the rule of law. The report also details how the newer prohibition comes with the much graver threat of international cartels and terrorists who profit from illegal drug sales. Yet, it leaves readers on a hopeful note. "We're starting to see an emerging consensus that drug prohibition just doesn't make sense," said Seattle's retired Police Chief Norm Stamper, a LEAP member. "Three out of four Americans now say the 'war on drugs' has failed, and so do the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators and the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators. Now, it's up to the new administration and Congress to follow through." More information about LEAP and a copy of the report will be uploaded at # # #
Washington, DC
United States

Feature: Sentencing Reform Initiative Defeated in California, "Tough on Crime" Initiatives Win in Oregon

Tough on crime can still trump smart on crime, if Tuesday's elections results on sentencing initiatives in two of the nation's most progressive states are any indication. In Oregon, voters approved two competing initiatives that will increase sentences and prison populations, while in California, a multi-million dollar campaign to dramatically reform sentencing went down in the face of opposition from prison guards and politicians, and another initiative that will see longer sentences and more prisoners was approved by voters.
overcrowding at Mule Creek State Prison (from
In California, the Drug Policy Alliance and the Campaign for New Drug Policies pumped nearly $8 million into the effort to pass Proposition 5, the Nonviolent Offenders Rehabilitation Act (NORA). NORA would have deepened and vastly expanded the "treatment not jail" sentencing reforms passed in 2001 as Prop. 36. While the Legislative Analyst's Office estimated it would cost $1 billion a year to implement, it also estimated that it would save $1 billion a year in prison costs, as well as $2.5 billion in savings from prisons that would not have to be built.

NORA had the near unanimous support of the drug treatment community, as well as the League of Women Voters of California, the Children's Defense Fund-California, the California Nurses Association, the California Federation of Teachers, the California Society of Addiction Medicine, the California State Conference of the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza, among others.

But a deep-pocketed opposition led by five current and former governors whose policies helped to create California's seemingly never-ending prison crisis and financed largely by the people who most directly benefit from increased prison populations, the California prison guards' union, undermined public support for NORA. The measure was also opposed by another group whose ox would have been gored, the drug court professionals -- arguably a part of the treatment community, but just as arguably a part of the law enforcement community. Several prominent state newspapers and actor Martin Sheen joined the opposition as well.

"It is a great threat to our neighborhoods," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said at a news conference featuring the assembled governors outside the Criminal Courts Building in downtown Los Angeles last Thursday. "It was written by those who care more about the rights of criminals."

The measure "will cost dollars and it will cost lives," chimed in former Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, neglecting to mention that it would have saved many more dollars than it would have cost.

It wasn't just the governors. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Attorney General Jerry Brown, also Democrats, opposed the measure too, and taped TV commercials against it. "Say no to drug dealers," Feinstein said in her ad, while Brown -- whose spot was paid for by the prison guards union -- called it "a complicated measure" that would "limit court authority over drug dealers and addicts who refuse treatment."

All told, the organized opposition pumped nearly $3.6 million into defeating NORA, more than half of it coming from the prison guards' union. And it worked -- on election day, NORA went down to defeat by a margin of 61% to 39%.

In a statement Tuesday evening when the outcome became apparent, Yes on 5 campaign spokeswoman Margaret Dooley-Sammuli laid the defeat at the door of the opposition. "Today we saw special interests overpower the public interest," she said. "California's prison guards poured millions of dollars into stopping Prop. 5 and securing this victory for the poison politics of crime."

Stopping NORA would be a pyrrhic victory, Dooley-Sammuli predicted, citing a looming federal court hearing on whether to take control of the overcrowded, under-budgeted prison system.

"The prosecutors and prison guards who led the campaign against Prop. 5 got their way tonight -- but they've really lost. The next step for our prisons will probably be a federal takeover. Prop. 5 was Californians' last, best chance to avoid a takeover and make our own choices about how to address prison overcrowding. Now federal judges are likely to impose solutions that no one will be happy about."

The effort to pass NORA was "not in vain," Dooley-Sammuli added. "Prop. 5 presented a vision for a future in which we do more for young people with drug problems, and improve the way we provide court-supervised treatment in California. There is plenty to build on going forward," she said.

But Golden State voters were still seduced by the "tough on crime" message that has played so well in California since the days of Ronald Reagan. While defeating NORA, they passed Proposition 9, also known as the Crime Victims Bill of Rights Act, by a margin of 53% to 47%. Naturally enough, the measure is concerned primarily with victims' rights, but also includes provisions that block local authorities from granting early release to prisoners to alleviate overcrowding and mandates that the state fund corrections costs as much as necessary to accomplish that end. It also lengthens the amount of time a prisoner serving a life sentence who has been denied parole must wait before re-applying. Currently, he must wait one to five years; under Prop. 9, he must wait three to 15 years. Prop. 9 would also allow parolees who have been jailed for alleged parole violations to be held 15 days instead of the current 10 before they are entitled to a hearing to determine if they can be held pending a revocation hearing, and stretches from 35 to 45 the number of days they could be held before such a hearing. These last two provisions, as well as one limiting legal counsel for parolees, all conflict with an existing federal court order governing California's procedures.

But if "tough on crime" still sells, another measure, Proposition 6, the Safe Neighborhoods Act, was too hard-sell even for California's crime-weary electorate. That measure, which was aimed primarily at gang members, violent criminals, and criminal aliens, also included provisions increasing penalties for methamphetamine possession, possession with intent, and distribution to be equal to those for cocaine, and provided for the expulsion from public housing of anyone convicted of a drug offense. The measure also mandates increased spending for law enforcement. It lost 69% to 31%.

"Tough on crime" worked this year in Oregon, too, with two competing measures that would ratchet up sentences and prison populations both passing. Measure 57, a legislative measure placed before the voters, and Measure 61, the brainchild of inveterate Oregon crime-fighter and initiative-generator Kevin Mannix, won with 61% and 51% of the vote, respectively.

The Mannix measure, the tougher of the two, would have set mandatory minimum sentences for a number of offenses, including drug sales, and is projected to add between 4,000 and 6,000 new inmates to the prison system over the next five years at a cost of between $500 million and $800 million. But because it garnered fewer votes than Measure 57, the latter is the one that will actually become law.

Measure 57 increases some sentences for repeat offenders and includes funding for behind-bars drug treatment. It is estimated to generate 1,670 additional prisoners over the next five years at a cost of $411 million, as well as requiring the state to borrow another $314 million for new prison construction.

Even with the national economy in a free-fall and state budgets increasingly feeling the squeeze, it looks like it's still easier to win with the politics of fear than with the politics of justice and compassion.

Press Release: Yes on Prop. 5 TV Spot Focuses on Treatment Success and Fiscal Savings!

For Immediate Release: October 28, 2008 Contact: Margaret Dooley-Sammuli at (213) 291-4190 or Tommy McDonald at (510) 229-5215 Yes on 5 TV Spot Focuses on Treatment Success, Fiscal Savings Supporters Say Prop. 5 Means More of Both SACRAMENTO – With the budget deficit worsening and prison overcrowding reaching crisis levels, voters are looking for an affordable and effective alternative. Proposition 5 builds on California’s proven treatment-instead-of-incarceration programs for nonviolent drug offenders. According to the nonpartisan legislative analyst, Prop. 5 will expand access to proven treatment programs and cut state costs. The savings – in lives and taxpayer dollars – of California’s existing treatment programs is the theme of “Success Story”, a new TV spot released today by the Yes on 5 campaign and now airing statewide. The ad focuses on Proposition 36, the treatment-instead-of-incarceration program approved by voters in 2000, which has graduated 84,000 nonviolent drug offenders and cut state spending on incarceration by $2 billion. The ad comes just days after the release of a new study on Proposition 36. Al Senella, president of the California Association of Alcohol and Drug Program Executives, said “The proof is in the research: treatment works and it cuts costs. But Prop. 36 hasn’t been adequately funded. That means some people aren’t getting all the help they need and taxpayers aren’t seeing all the savings they should. Inadequate investment in treatment means higher costs later.” Conducted by independent researchers at UCLA, the October 14 report found that Prop. 36 consistently serves 35,000 nonviolent drug offenders each year, saves $2 for every $1 spent, and that program completers have lower recidivism rates. Tom Renfree, executive director of the County Alcohol and Drug Program Administrators Association of California, said “UCLA showed that the program needs individualized treatment, increased supervision and improved accountability. Prop. 5 delivers on all these recommendations. For those not satisfied with Prop. 36, Prop. 5 is the answer. It will improve outcomes and further cut costs.” Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy campaign manager of Yes on 5, said, “Prop. 36 has been a huge success. What all the research tells us is that treatment can be even more successful at cutting recidivism and prison spending. That’s why Prop. 5 is on the ballot.” The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office found that Prop. 5 will lower incarceration costs by $1 billion each year and reduce prison-construction costs by $2.5 billion. This doesn’t include savings related to reduced crime, fewer social services costs (e.g. emergency room visits, welfare), and increased individual productivity. For the ad: For the report:
United States

"Economically, our criminal justice policies are cutting our throat"

CJPF President Eric Sterling has a simply fantastic article at Huffington Post illustrating the virtually infinite economic harm caused by drug prohibition and over-incarceration.

I highly recommend reading this, particularly because I often find reformers getting confused about the economics of prohibition. It’s easy to look at the prison guard unions, the small towns with big SWAT teams, the forfeiture-funded drug task forces, etc. and find oneself arguing that the drug war is all about making money. It’s true that drug war profiteering may help explain why certain interests will always shamelessly defend their piece of the prohibition pie. Yet, as Eric helpfully explains, the criminal justice system is hemorrhaging resources on every imaginable level, not only through the cost of maintaining our massive prison population, but also in terms of the lost economic participation of millions of inmates and felons.  

To whatever extent certain individuals and institutions may profit from the war on drugs, they do so at the expense of the economic health of the nation. Educating ourselves and the public about this concept is vital to framing the drug war debate in terms all Americans can relate to.

Press Release: Prop. 5 Ad -- Only One Measure Will Cut CA State Costs ($2.5 Billion)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 27, 2008 CONTACT: Margaret Dooley-Sammuli at (213) 291-4190 or Tommy McDonald at (510) 229-5215 Prop 5 TV Ad Focuses on $2.5 Billion "Bottom Line" Only Measure to Cut State Costs, says LAO LOS ANGELES - Amid the state budget crisis and financial market meltdown, voters are anxious about ballot measures that will cost the state money. There's only one measure on the November ballot that will actually cut state costs, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO). That's Proposition 5, the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act (NORA), which would increase treatment access for youth and nonviolent offenders, and reduce prison overcrowding. Cost-cutting is the theme of "Bottom Line", a new TV spot released today and airing statewide. The ad highlights the ballot language prepared by the LAO: that Prop. 5 will result in "capital outlay savings potentially exceeding $2.5 billion." The LAO's analysis has impressed other groups concerned with the state's fiscal health: Adrian Moore, of the Reason Foundation, said "Proposition 5 is taxpayers' only hope of getting prison spending under control, and the only choice on the ballot for voters concerned with our state's fiscal solvency." Richard Holober, of the Consumer Federation of California, said, "Prop. 5 is a good deal for California taxpayers. It's the only measure on the ballot that will reduce state spending. In these economic times, California can't afford not to pass Prop. 5." According to the LAO, Prop. 5 will reduce the state prison population by at least 18,000 and the number of people on parole by 22,000. Overall, the LAO calculates that Prop. 5 will generate "savings potentially exceeding $1 billion annually on corrections operations." Annual costs for Prop. 5 rehabilitation programs could eventually grow to $1 billion, says the LAO - making Prop. 5 cost-neutral on an annual basis. By reducing the number of nonviolent offenders behind bars and on parole, Prop. 5 will slow California's skyrocketing prison growth - which is currently increasing at three times the rate of the general adult population. According to the LAO, this would reduce future spending on prison construction by at least $2.5 billion. Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy campaign manager with Yes on 5, said "Prop. 5 is a smarter way to spend existing resources so that we put the brakes on out-of-control prison growth while investing in proven, effective recidivism-reduction programs." UCLA researchers have found that treatment diversion saves $2.50 for every $1 invested, and yields $4 for every $1 among those who complete treatment. So, advocates believe, long-term savings from Prop. 5 could well exceed the $2.5 billion projected by the LAO, as more individuals achieve long-term abstinence from drugs and alcohol and become productive members of the community. The TV spot is online here: The New York Times Editorial is online here: DPA Fact Sheet: CALIFORNIA'S BLOATED PRISON GROWTH * Since 2000, prison costs have grown 50% to over $10 billion - about 10% of the state budget. It now costs $46,000 to incarcerate one person for one year in CA. * Since the late 1980s, the prison population increased by 75% to over 170,000 - nearly three times faster than the general adult population. Meanwhile, the number of incarcerated nonviolent offenders skyrocketed from 20,000 to 70,000. * In the 1990s, California built 21 new prisons and just one university. The state now spends about the same amount annually on prisons and higher education. * From 1980 to 2000, the number of drug offenders behind bars jumped from 1,778 to 45,455. Since 2000, the number of people incarcerated for drug possession has fallen by over 6,000 - thanks to Proposition 36 treatment-not-incarceration. * About 20% of prisoners are incarcerated for a drug offense, but over 80% of inmates have a substance abuse problem. The prison system has capacity to provide treatment to only about 5%. * Every month 10,000 inmates are released; most have not received treatment or rehabilitation behind bars. California's recidivism rate is twice the national average at 70%. Each month 7,000 parolees are returned to prison. * Since 1980, membership in the prison guard union increased 500% from 5,000 to 31,000 - and average annual earnings grew from $14,400 in 1980 to nearly $90,000 in 2008 ($73,720 in base pay plus $16,000 in overtime). IF PROP. 5 DOESN'T PASS. * The response to California's prison crisis will be determined by a federal court. On November 17, 2008, a three-judge panel will consider putting the entire prison system under federal receivership. (The Legislative Analyst's Office calculates that Prop. 5 would reduce the prison population and parole populations by at least 40,000 in just a few years.) * California prison spending is projected to reach $15 billion by 2011. (The legislative analyst calculates that Prop. 5 would reduce prison spending by $1 billion per year and cut prison construction costs by at least $2.5 billion.) * Spending on drug and alcohol treatment in the community will continue to shrink; spending was cut by 10% in the 2009-10 state budget. (Prop. 5 would allocate increased and reliable spending on community-based alcohol and drug treatment programs proven to cut incarceration costs.)
United States

Initiatives: Drug Czar, Prison Guards Gang Up on California's Treatment-Not-Jail Proposition 5

Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP--the drug czar's office) director John Walters headed to California this week to try to defeat a ballot initiative that would divert thousands of drug offenders from prison in the nation's most populous state. The state's powerful prison guards union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), has entered the fray too, pledging a million dollars to help finance a last-minute opposition campaign.

The target of their ire is the Nonviolent Offenders Rehabilitation Act (NORA), which will appear on the ballot as Proposition 5. NORA would profoundly deepen and broaden the shift toward treatment instead of incarceration that began six years ago with Proposition 36. If NORA passes, it would:

  • require the state to expand and increase funding and oversight for individualized treatment and rehabilitation programs for nonviolent drug offenders and parolees;
  • reduce criminal consequences of nonviolent drug offenses by mandating three-tiered probation with treatment and by providing for case dismissal and/or sealing of records after probation;
  • limit courts' authority to incarcerate offenders who violate probation or parole;
  • shorten parole for most drug offenses, including sales, and for nonviolent property crimes;
  • create numerous divisions, boards, commissions, and reporting requirements regarding drug treatment and rehabilitation;
  • change certain marijuana misdemeanors to infractions.

All of that is too much for drug czar Walters, who showed up in Sacramento Tuesday to blast the initiative as a back-door move to legalize drugs. The Drug Policy Alliance, which is backing NORA, and its top funder, financier George Soros, cannot achieve drug legalization "by being honest and straightforward," so they deceptively offered up Prop. 5 to undermine the drug court system, Walters charged. Passage of Prop. 5 would "weaken our capacity to help people in the criminal justice system" who still remain subject to punishment if they fail, he said.

That guaranteed a sharp retort from Prop. 5 supporters. Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, spokesperson for Yes on 5, called the measure "a common sense response" to prohibition-related crime and blasted Walters as a spokesman for failed policies. "President Bush's drug czar has come to California to insist that we continue with the failed approach that has been so ineffective and has crowded our prisons full of nonviolent offenders," Dooley-Sammuli said.

The Legislative Analyst's Office calculates that Prop. 5 will lower incarceration costs by $1 billion each year and will cut another $2.5 billion in state costs for prison construction. This doesn't include savings related to reduced crime, lower social costs (e.g. emergency room visits, child protective services, welfare), and increased individual productivity.

But filling California prisons full of nonviolent offenders is a jobs program for the prison guards union. While earlier in the campaign season, the union had been distracted by a failed effort to recall Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, last week it announced it was kicking in a million dollars to defeat the initiative.

"CCPOA never has been shy about making sure that our voice is heard," union spokesman Lance Corcoran said. "We'll continue to do that. We've always put the resources necessary to get the job done," he said.

But while the prison guards and the drug czar join other law enforcement groups in lining up against Prop. 5, the measure has broad support within the treatment community, as well as endorsements from the League of Women Voters of California, the California Nurses Association, the California Federation of Teachers, and the Consumer Federation of California -- among many others.


Proposal: A RESOLUTION TO INVESTIGATE AND MITIGATE THE REAL COST OF THE WAR ON DRUGS WHEREAS, the "war on drugs" has failed: every community in the U.S. contends with the harmful effects of drug misuse and related problems, and while states have continually increased their expenditures to wage the war on drugs, policies which rely heavily on arrest and incarceration have proved costly and ineffective at addressing these issues; and WHEREAS, the war on drugs is a major force driving the incarceration of over 2.3 million people in the United States, with African Americans and Latinos disproportionately represented in our country's overflowing jails and prisons; and WHEREAS, the war on drugs perpetuates mandatory minimums, felony disfranchisement, disproportionate over-incarceration, poor access to healthcare, under funded public education, widespread unemployment, and the general criminalization of communities of color in the U.S.; and WHEREAS, paying for the war on drugs means spending limited tax dollars on failed policies instead of proven solutions. Americans spend approximately $140 billion annually on prisons and jails including $24 billion spent on incarcerating over 1.2 million non-violent offenders. In many states, such as New York and California, spending on prisons far surpasses spending on education; and WHEREAS, harm reduction strategies, including access to affordable community-based drug treatment, along with educational and economic opportunities, have shown to be successful at reducing the harms of drug misuse, yet more than half of those Americans in need of drug treatment do not have access to it; and WHEREAS, African Americans and Latinos are less likely to sell or misuse illicit drugs than Caucasian Americans, yet African Americans experience highly disproportionate levels of death, disease, crime and suffering due both to drug misuse and to misguided drug policies. African Americans comprise only 12.2 percent of the population and 13 percent of drug users, yet they make up 38 percent of those arrested for drug offenses and 59 percent of those convicted of drug offenses; and WHEREAS, our common goal is to advocate those policies which increase the health and welfare of our communities, and to reduce the unacceptable racial disparities both in criminal justice and in access to drug treatment and other services; and WHEREAS, taking steps to reduce the incarceration of non-violent offenders and increasing the availability of treatment not only makes fiscal sense, but is sound public policy that is being implemented in states throughout the country, such as Maryland and California; and WHEREAS, we believe that nonviolent substance abusers are not menaces to our communities but rather a troubled yet integral part of our community who need to be reclaimed; WHEREAS, Cannabis and Hemp, should be regulated and controlled like cigarettes and alcohol. Heroin, Cocaine, Ecstasy, Methamphetamine, should be medicalized and come under the supervision of medical personnel. All the rest of the illegal drugs should be decriminalized for future debate and true and honest medicinal study. THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THE Green Party of the United States of America calls for a complete and thorough investigation into the so called Drug War, and its connections to the prison industry, and seeks to mitigate its destructive effects through taxes derived from the sale of Cannabis and hemp which will go back into the communities as reparations to rebuild infra structure such as public education, health care and roads for those communities that have been ravaged by drug war maladies, as well as treatment programs made available for anyone addicted to drugs. Resources: Efficacy, Drug Policy Alliance, Common Sense for Drug Policy, Criminal Justice Foundation

Latin America: Embattled Mexican President Seeks More Money to Fight Crime, Drug Gangs

Mexican President Felipe Calderón came into office nearly two years ago vowing to destroy the country's powerful drug trafficking organizations and the violent crime associated with them. But now, roughly 5,000 prohibition-related deaths later and with violent common crime also on the rise, Calderón finds himself increasingly under fire for his failure to live up to his promises.
Shrine to San Malverde, patron saint of the narcos (and others), Culiacán -- plaque thanking God, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and San Malverde for keeping the roads cleans -- from ''the indigenous people from Angostura to Arizona'' (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith)
On Monday, Calderon sought to give himself some political breathing room by asking for a whopping 39% increase in crime-fighting and anti-drug funding in his proposed 2009 budget. But while he was quick to publicize the funding request, he was short on details on how the extra money would be spent.

“I have asked for this increase of nearly 40% because we know that today security, justice and order are the principal challenge facing Mexico,” Calderón said.

Indeed, since Calderón took office and called out around 30,000 soldiers to join state, local, and federal police in taking on the cartels, matters have only deteriorated. Not only is prohibition-related violence escalating -- nearly 3,000 have been killed in the drug wars so far this year -- but common crime has grown to such proportions that just two weeks ago tens of thousands of Mexicans took to the streets of Mexico City and other cities demanding that Calderón do something.

Calderón responded to the protests first by meeting with march leaders, then by announcing a series of anti-crime measures, and now, by seeking a large increase in crime-fighting funds. But so far, nothing has worked. In just one week at the end of August, 130 people died in prohibition-related violence in Mexico.

While Calderón can probably count on winning approval of his increased anti-drug and crime funding request, he can also count on the arrival in coming months of the first tranche of a $1.4 billion US anti-drug assistance package consisting largely of helicopters, surveillance gear, and training. Then we will see if more of the same produces different results.

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