Remember the War on Drugs? Well, it's over, and drugs won. (Is that Bill Maher's line? Help me out here.)
It turns out that the military solution to drug addiction, including herbicide spraying in Bolivia and Coast Guard interdictions, is as futile as it is expensive. And the criminal solution, throwing drug users into prison by the thousand, does nothing to reduce addiction.
What we need instead is some kind of solution that addresses the demand side of the equation. And I don't mean "Just Say No." I mean reducing addiction levels through drug rehab. This is not a military or criminal solution—it is a medical solution, and it's the only solution known to get results.
Prop 5 will reduce the pointless incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders, and instead offer them rehabilitation and a meaningful chance to break the cycle of addiction and arrest. And it will make significant dent in our prison overcrowding problem.
Prop 5 has four main components. First, it will expand the adult treatment programs in lieu of prison that have been in place since we approved Prop 36 in 2000. Prop 5 creates three levels of care and supervision for nonviolent drug offenders, based on their criminal history and drug problem severity. A mix of incentives and consequences, including hard jail time, will encourage completion of treatment. Prop 36 has been a great success, with over 80,000 people completing treatment programs in its first seven years. It makes good sense to build on this.
Second, Prop 5 will mandate local sanctions instead of prison to punish minor parole violations by nonviolent offenders. This will further reduce strain on the prison system. Also, parolees and former parolees will continue to receive rehabilitation services to help them stay clean as they return to society.
Get your ass out there and vote. The prison system has become a business, with the companies building them profiting millions of dollars on over zealous drug laws and enhancements. Go out there and vote.
We can make a difference!
Third, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana will change from a misdemeanor to an infraction, with a maximum fine of $100 for adults, and mandatory drug education classes for minors. This low level of punishment for small amounts is appropriate for the severity of the crime. And it is a concrete first step away from the military/criminal solution that has proven so ineffective.
Finally, Prop 5 creates drug treatment and other support programs for at-risk youth. No such services exist now for people under 18. Prop 5 will set up network of drug treatment programs for young people, who could be referred to treatment by family members, school counselors or physicians. Services would also be available for youth on probation or involved with the juvenile justice system. Obviously a lot of drug users begin before they turn 18. Prop 5 recognizes this, and may help nip many addictions in the bud.
California's prison population has been growing rapidly. It was 100,000 as recently as 1990, but now tops 170,000. The prisons, which were designed to hold about 83,000, are bursting at the seams. To handle demands that exceed 200% of intended capacity, inmates are stacked three-high everywhere, including areas never intended to house people. It's cruel and inhumane, just as the problems addressed by Prop 2, but here we're dealing with human beings, not farm animals.
Prop 5 will reduce the severity of this awful overcrowding. Roughly 30,000 inmates are in prison for nonviolent drug offenses. It is estimated that Prop 5 will allow this number to be reduced by about 18,000, or 10% of the total prison population. It's not nearly enough, but it's progress. And those 18,000 nonviolent offenders will be much better served by rehab than incarceration; we'll all be better off because of that.
I haven't even mentioned the really cool part of Prop 5. Even though it expands expensive drug treatment and starts up a new youth program, Prop 5 is expected to produce a net savings in the billions due to the reduction in the prison population. Considering all the beneficial effects outlined above, and the boost it will give toward a rational, medical solution to our drug problem, I wholeheartedly endorse this proposition.