Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Drugs Decriminalized in the Budget?

by David Downs
Tue, Mar 8, 2011 at 7:39 AM

The State of California is so broke it might not be able to afford parts of its drug war anymore. Criminal laws are on the books, but funds for mandatory diversion into treatment are no longer available, meaning convicted drug offenders might have an out.

While numerous laws detail criminal penalties for drug possession, Proposition 36, enacted by 61 percent of voters in November 2000, says first- and second-time non-violent, simple drug possession offenders must get substance-abuse treatment instead of jail time.

But Prop 36 funds have dried up. The state allocated $120 million per year for the first five years, set aside $108 million in 2008-09, and $18 million in 2009-10. Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal includes no money for it in 2011-12, said Lanny Swerdlow a dispensary owner and activist in San Bernardino County. “The coffers are empty, so it's a mandate with no money, but a mandate nonetheless - someone who's eligible and demands treatment can't just be sent to jail,” he said.

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, California deputy director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said: “Putting eligible defendants on probation and a treatment waiting list creates a gray area. If a wait-listed probationer fails three court-mandated drug tests, that person theoretically could still argue against being sent to jail because the state, the county, or the court hasn't held up its end of the bargain by placing him or her in treatment. You can't be failed out of a program you aren't in."

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