State initiatives for drug policy reforms launched
Americans for Medical Rights forms parallel organization
By Dave Fratello, Campaign for New Drug Policies
A new organization based in Los Angeles, Campaign for New Drug Policies (CNDP), has been created to serve as coordinator and sponsor for three new state ballot initiatives reforming drug policies in California, Utah and Massachusetts. Two additional drug policy measures will also be on Oregon and Arizona ballots in the upcoming year.
CNDP will sponsor a California ballot initiative that will offer automatic probation with drug treatment for all persons convicted of drug possession and related nonviolent drug possession offenses. Unlike most drug-court systems, allowable drug treatment services could include methadone treatment. The initiative would also include literacy and job training, family counseling, and other support services essential to assisting drug-dependent individuals in their recovery.
In addition, this measure would allow nonviolent parolees who test positive for drugs or commit possession offenses to be referred into a mix of treatment services rather than the automatic prison sentence now required.
The California State Legislative Analyst's Office estimates that this measure will keep up to 25,000 people per year out of our jails and prisons, freeing up as many as 12,000 prison beds and 3,000 county jail cells within a short period of time. Savings to the state could quickly reach $200 million per year, by that office's estimate. The signature drive for this California measure is currently underway.
CNDP is also sponsoring a Massachusetts ballot initiative focusing on civil asset forfeiture reform. The forfeiture laws in Massachusetts are an unflattering carbon-copy of federal statutes. The state initiative would offer protections of property rights with reforms modeled after the Hyde bill's changes to federal law. Going one step further, however, the measure would put all proceeds from state-processed forfeitures and federal forfeitures that are shared with the state into a drug treatment fund, disallowing any law enforcement use of such property or money.
Finally, the Massachusetts measure expands eligibility of some drug offenders for drug treatment as an alternative to incarceration, paying for the treatment in part with the forfeiture proceeds. The signature drive for this measure is complete and the initiative is going to be taken up in February or March by the Massachusetts Legislature. If they do not pass the initiative unamended, the measure will go to the November 2000 ballot. CNDP is also supervising the drafting of a similar, but more limited, forfeiture reform statute in Utah.
The Arizona-based sponsors of 1996's Proposition 200 are sponsoring a new measure clarifying and expanding that watershed initiative's broad-scale medicalization of the state's once-punitive drug policies. The Arizona measure is currently being circulated to voters. The Arizona group is also drafting a forfeiture-reform initiative in Oregon.
Meanwhile, Americans for Medical Rights will continue its sponsorship of campaigns in Colorado and Nevada, which will both vote on medical marijuana again in Nov. 2000. Nevada is voting again because constitutional amendments must be approved twice by voters there. (The measure won 59%-41% in 1998.) Colorado voters supported a 1998 medical marijuana initiative by a 60-40 margin, but a court ruled that the vote should not be counted due to alleged insufficiency of signatures on petitions for the measure. Recently the state agreed that officials had erred in processing signatures in 1998, and the initiative was placed automatically on the 2000 ballot.
Finally, AMR will continue implementation work in states that have passed initiatives, with a special focus on Maine where key legislators and law enforcement personnel have indicated support for follow-up legislation.