October 13, 2000


COMMENTARY

Propositon 36: Beware the Man on the White Horse

by John T. Schwarzlose
President, The Betty Ford Center

Proposition 36 is a dangerous and misleading initiative timed to take advantaged of the growing consensus among Americans that treatment is a more promising weapon in the war against drugs than incarceration. Had it been introduced ten years ago when crime rates were soaring, nobody would have taken it seriously.

This situation is not lost on eccentric billionaire George Soros and two other wealthy out-of-state businessmen, Proposition 36's main proponents. For Mr. Soros, Proposition 36 represents an important step in his quixotic master plan to descriminalize street drugs throughout the United States. Unfortunately, his utopian view of the world does not square with the sad reality of drug addiction. Beware the man on the white horse, especially when he's pledged to spend $3 million of his own money to push his experiment in social engineering.

Effective treatment does offer a better long-term outcome for addicts and society at large. But it requires accountability, consequences and a real commitment on the part of the addict to get and stay clean — elements clearly missing from Proposition 36. As such, this irresponsible initiative offer only false hope to addicts and their families struggling to free themselves from the horrors of drug abuse.

Proposition 36 promises everything: gain without pain and taxpayer savings to boot. But when something looks too good to be true, it probably is —and Proposition 36 is no exception. The essential problem is that it is a decriminalization measure, not a serious treatement plan. In effect, Proposition 36 will remove penalties for the use of heroin, crack, metamphetamines, PCP and "date rape" drugs — hardly a step in the right direction.

Incredibly, Proposition 36 contains no licensing or accountability guidelines for "drug treatment" programs and prohibits any of the $120 million a year it allocated from being used for drug testing — the cornerstone of any successful treatment program. If Proposition 36 is a drug treatment measure, why won't it pay for drug testing?

With $120 million a year in state money up for grabs, opportunists who lack training and experience in the field will be lining up to start their own profitable "treatment" programs at taxpayer expense. And sadly, our poorest citizens who lack political clout will experience the greatest immediate impact if Proposition 36 passes, since it is their neighborhoods that will likely house the new "treatment" programs and halfway houses.

If the proponent of Proposition 36 were serious about treatment and saving taxpayer dollars, they'd be pusing for expansion of Californian's highly effective drug court system. The drug courts save taxpayers $10 for every dollar invested and have a solid 65% to 85% successs rate.

The drug courts work because they provide exactly what Proposition 36 fails to deliver: court-supervised treatment with regular drug testing and consequences that hold participants accountable is they fail to take treatment seriously.

Drug abusers need help, but Proposition 36 is not the answer. Californians should reject this misguided and dangerous initiative and support expansion of our drug courts— a proven program that's offering real hope to drug addicts and their families.

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