New Op-Ed Shows Success of Improved Drug Policy
Arizonans Ignore Rhetoric, Reap Benefits
by Adam J. Smith
A report released this week by the Arizona State Supreme Court has found that Proposition 200, passed by voters in 1996 and again, after the state legislature had gutted the provision, in 1998, has in fact been an overwhelming success.
Prop. 200, which mandates treatment or drug education rather than incarceration for first and second- time non-violent drug offenders, and which required that $4 million in alcohol tax revenues be set aside in a "drug treatment and education fund," was anathema to many politicians. After its initial passage, in fact, US Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) stood in the well of the Senate to apologize to his colleagues, saying that his constituents had been "duped" by "legalizers."
Not so, says the report. In fact, the Supreme Court used words like "very favorable" and even "remarkable" to describe the new law's impact in only its first year of operation. Among the report's findings were that 2,622 non- violent drug offenders were diverted from jail into treatment or drug education, at a savings of more than $2.5 million to the state. Supporters point out that the report did not even take into account the savings from the thousands of others who were arrested for other non-violent offenses who were diverted into newly-available treatment slots at judges' discretion.
Critics of drug policy reform have long depended upon fear- mongering in the absence of evidence in support their punitive drug policies. Newspaper columnists, public officials and others have felt free to cast any reform idea as a dark plot by "the legalizers," out to bring down western civilization. Words like "cabal" and "nefarious," accusations of seeking to addict the nation's children to drugs, and gross misrepresentations of both act and intent characterize much of the rhetoric used to turn citizens against reform.
The truth, however, is far less intriguing but far more devastating for those with a vested interest in the status quo. The truth is that people, lots and lots of people, are fed up with the excesses and abject failure of America's drug policies and are willing to vote to change it, despite the most dire warnings from on high. In Arizona, the people had to vote twice on essentially the same initiative. The second time, for good measure, they also passed an initiative requiring a 2/3 vote of the legislature to overturn the letter or intent of an initiative passed by the voters.
So here we are, a legally-mandated report on the new law's operation in its first fiscal year completed, and it appears as if the sky is not falling in Arizona. Locking up non- violent offenders under that state's previous "Do Drugs, Do Time" policy was not, it would seem, the finger in the dike holding back a flood of addiction and misery.
In fact, it's likely that a whole lot of addiction and a whole lot of suffering could have been averted if only the politicians were willing to deal with these issues as intelligently as were the citizens of Arizona. With the truth out, let us hope that the next time Senator Kyl feels the need to apologize about his state's drug policy, he addresses his remarks to, rather than about, his constituents.
Adam J. Smith is Associate Director of the Drug Reform Coordination Network. For further news on this topic, always check http://www.drcnet.org
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