Santa Cruz just became the latest county to announce it would “end” CA‘s Proposition 36 treatment-instead-of-incarceration program for low-level drug offenses because of a lack of funding. This terminology is confusing and misleading – even for those who should know better.
Proposition 36, the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act, was approved by 61% of California voters in 2000 – and it can only be undone by the voters. That is, it doesn’t “end” simply because the state and county aren’t funding alcohol and drug treatment.
Counties that deny Prop 36 participants access to adequate drug treatment, such as by providing support groups (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous) rather than licensed care, provide grounds for each defendant to bring suit. Just as importantly, California courts simply cannot remand people to jail or prison for a petty drug offense if that defendant is eligible for and opts into probation under Prop 36.