Thursday, November 06, 2008

Drug reform: two steps forward . . .

One of the more disappointing aspects of election night in California was the defeat of Proposition 5, the incarceration reform measure put together by the Drug Policy Alliance, which would have offered treatment instead of incarceration to most non-violent drug offenders and according to the nonpartisan legislative analyst saved the state $2.5 billion in prison construction costs. The prison guards union donated $1 million to defeating it.

It was especially disappointing since, on the same night, Michigan passed a medical marijuana initiative and Massachusetts passed what was essentially decriminalization of marijuana -- a $100 fine and no criminal record for simple possession of an ounce or less. (Here's a link to the Register's editorial on various state initiatives across the country.) The sentiment for drug law reform is out there, but we couldn't get it done in California (the Register was the only major newspaper to endorse Prop. 5).

Tuesday night's results make me wonder if working for simple decriminalization might be a more productive path. Prop. 5 was carefully, almost exquisitely crafted, with carefully balanced criteria for which offenders would be eligible for treatment. But it would have earmarked money fro treatment programs and it was long and fairly complex. It's not unusual for voters simply to vote No on propositions they don't quite understand, especially if some valid-sounding doubts have been raised (Dianne Feinstein did commercial against it). But the Massachusetts result suggests that voters might be ready for simple decriminalization, at least of marijuana. That would ease a host of law-induced social problems.

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