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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.
Sitting 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."
Measure 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
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.
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.
Now, 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 similar results.
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.
Measure 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.
As 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."
is funded by the D.C. Campaign for Treatment. Mr. Sokoni can be contacted
at [email protected].