Lumumba Sokoni is an activist lawyer trained at Howard University School
of Law. He is the Drug Policy Alliance's campaign coordinator for Measure
62. The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is a nationwide drug reform organization
that believes the war on drugs has failed and it's time to start looking
at alternatives. DPA believes drug policies should be less harmful than
the drugs themselves, and wants to base drug policy on science, medicine,
compassion, and human rights.
at a stop light on Florida Avenue recently, I observed a man and woman
hanging out in a parking lot of a gas station. Nothing was too unusual
except that it was just turning 5 o'clock in the morning and the store
was closed. A cop car was parked nearby seeming to make the scene complete.
Simple street sense told me that the people at the store used drugs
and, no doubt, had been up all night. I also knew that if they were
confronted by that police officer, they would probably be arrested and
sent to jail for drugs. Assuming they were non-violent and with my current
advocacy work in mind, I thought, "If they were to get in trouble,
these two people would benefit from Measure 62."
62 is the "Treatment Instead of Jail for Certain Non-Violent Drug
Offenders Initiative of 2002." This measure will be placed on the
November ballot. If passed, Measure 62 will provide substance abuse
treatment instead of prosecution or imprisonment to eligible, non-violent
defendants charged with illegal possession or use of drugs. Because
of a Congressional amendment, certain drugs are not included in the
initiative, i.e. marijuana.
However, the amendment will cover 70 percent of the people who we believe
should benefit from a harm-reduction-based approach to the drug
problem. Individuals who are convicted of low-level, non-violent drug
crimes are placed on probation and given treatment. Measure 62 will
cover services like vocational training, family counseling and anger
management in addition to quality drug treatment. Under Measure 62,
the person will receive 12 months of treatment with six months of after-care.
provided will be conveniently located in the community. This is good
policy because people would be kept with their families, so children
don't have to go into foster care as they would if their caretakers
were imprisoned. In addition, providing local treatment instead of jailing
is beneficial because it will not interrupt the employment of offenders
who have jobs. At present, if my two friends at the gas station were
to be arrested and sent to prison, they would end up in far away places
like Ohio and Connecticut. In addition to treatment, under Measure 62,
once a person has successfully completed treatment, they can request
that their record be expunged.
initiative approach is good because we are looking at enormous harms
that cannot wait for politicians alone to address. The status quo is
without the appropriate amount of treatment and
rehabilitation mechanisms in place. Besides the human issues that were
discussed, drug and alcohol abuse directly and indirectly costs the
District about $1.2 billion a year. That's billion with a "B".
As a result, active citizen participation has become necessary.
enters Measure 62, which is a treatment-based trend that is starting
to sweep the country. Voters have enacted similar "treatment instead
of incarceration" initiatives in Arizona (Proposition 200 in 1996)
and California (Proposition 36 in 2000) with overwhelming citizen support.
The Hawaii legislature has enacted similar legislation this year. Additionally,
voters in Michigan and Ohio will vote on "treatment instead of
incarceration" initiatives in November with Florida to follow in
2004. Since passage, Proposition 36 has diverted more than 13,000 drug
offenders into treatment. And, California's taxpayers are projected
to save approximately $1.5 billion over the next five years. In addition,
California has increased the number of licensed and certified substance
abuse slots by 68%. Since enactment of Proposition 36, California's
drug user, prison population has decreased by 20%. Arizona is having
The questions I ask myself are many. If passed, will
Congress support the will of the people and appropriate the necessary
funding for D.C. to implement Measure 62? Will the opponents of this
trend be those who support the prison industrial complex? Will the opposition
to this type of measure be businessmen whose bottom line is based on
the number of people who go to prison and who go back to prison? Will
the non-supporters of this bill be those who make a profit off of prison
construction and prison labor? This, of course, will be something to
watch as Measure 62 kicks into high gear in the Congress's backyard.
62, in essence, will have a positive impact on the District as a whole.
This is about healing and finally employing alternative measures that
have proven to work and not harm. No longer will we see the jailing
of minorities in such high numbers while whites disproportionately receive
treatment. This measure will guarantee treatment for all non-violent,
low-level drug offenders who need it. If the results of Measure 62 are
half as successful as what we are seeing in Arizona and California,
the District stands to benefit greatly. More families will stay together,
more children will be born healthy, more DC residents will become employable
and more treatment slots will become available.
the light turned green that morning, I took another glance at my two
fellow DCites and thought, "If Measure 62 passes, the next time
I see them at this hour they could be going to work."
62 is funded by the D.C. Campaign for Treatment. Mr. Sokoni can be contacted
at [email protected].
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