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July 20, 2007 - Great Falls Tribune (MT)

Meth Project Founder Critical Of 'Crazy' Drug Policy

By Gwen Florio, Tribune Capitol Bureau

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

HELENA -- The nation's drug policy "is a little bit crazy," Montana Meth Project founder Tom Siebel said Thursday.

Far too much money and effort goes toward imprisoning drug users, and too little toward prevention and treatment, Siebel said during an address before a Hometown Helena civic group meeting.

Pointing out that the skyrocketing rate of incarceration is mostly because of drug offenses, Siebel said, "it used to be that we put people in jail who we were scared of. Now we put people in jail we're mad at."

Prison doesn't work, he said.

"They just get a better education," Siebel added. "It's like a graduate school program in drug distribution."

Siebel, a multimillionaire software entrepreneur, also used the occasion to press Attorney General Mike McGrath to divert more funds toward the Montana Meth Project. Although Siebel paid millions for the original project -- whose graphic ads about methamphetamine abuse garnered nationwide attention -- a combination of federal, state and private money now will fund the project in Montana.

"We need money," he said.

The project has raised more than $500,000 in corporate and private donations in Montana in the last year, which the Siebel Foundation will match, he announced Thursday, promising to match up to $5 million. Montana's congressional delegation is also seeking federal money for the project.

The Legislature allocated $1 million in 2008 for the Meth Project. The attorney general's office will begin seeking proposals this fall to carry on the Meth Project's work, said spokeswoman Lynn Solomon.

Siebel also addressed his political ambitions, which have been the subject of speculation.

He said he is "absolutely not" running for U.S. Senate or any other office in Montana. "Never," he said, adding that he felt he could be more effective in the private sector.

Tom Daubert, a consultant to the Missoula-based Citizens for Responsible Crime Policy, praised Siebel's comments about drug policy.

"I agree with him completely," Daubert said. "I think it's time for a radical change in policy, a completely new paradigm that looks at the problems people have with drugs as health issues, not criminal law-enforcement issues. I think that for less money, we will have much better results for all concerned."

Last year, Citizens for Responsible Crime Policy backed Missoula County's successful Initiative 2, which encourages county law enforcement authorities to rank adult marijuana offenses as their lowest priority. The policy was amended in March, and no longer applies to marijuana-related felonies.

In June, the U.S. Conference of Mayors adopted a resolution that termed the war on drugs a failure, decried the rate of incarceration for drug users and called for a public health policy focusing on treatment.

"It's easy to fund jails," Siebel said. "It's not so easy to fund prevention programs, treatment programs and counseling."

The Montana Meth Project conducts regular surveys on its effectiveness. The most recent survey, released in March, shows high awareness of the dangers of methamphetamine, with 87 percent of teens surveyed disapproving of even infrequent meth use. A survey released in January by McGrath's office showed a decline in meth lab busts and detection of meth during workplace testing and fewer meth-related arrests.

However, the number of meth lab incidents was dropping steeply well before Siebel started the Montana Meth Project in the fall of 2005, according to statistics from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency. Likewise, arrests for drug violations also were dropping before the project started, according to DEA figures. The agency noted that law enforcement officers in Montana identify meth as the state's most significant drug problem.

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