Margaret Dooley-Sammuli: California taking a step back in drug treatment

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli is deputy state director, Southern California, for the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation’s leading organization working to end the war on drugs and a proponent of Prop. 36 in 2000.

Santa Cruz just became the latest county to announce it would “end” the 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 percent 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.

This is good news for California taxpayers.

According to UCLA research, Prop. 36 has helped reduce the number of people incarcerated for personal drug possession by 40 percent or 8,000 people, saves $2.5-$4 for every dollar invested more than $2 billion so far, diverted 36,000 people into treatment a year when funded, and has had no negative impact on crime trends. If those 8,000 people were still in prison, taxpayers would spend an additional $400 million on corrections this year alone.

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