Prop. 36 gives users a chance |

Prop. 36 gives users a chance

A bill that would allow illegal drug users more “chances” in drug treatment centers before they receive a prison sentence will be voted on Nov. 7.

Supporters of Proposition 36 claim it would save millions of dollars because there would be less of a need to build prisons, and the money saved could be poured into drug treatment centers. Opponents of the bill argue that the bill would decriminalize personal drug use and increase crime associated with drug use.

The bill is primarily backed with money donated by New York philanthropist George Soros, Ohio insurance executive Peter Lewis and University of Phoenix founder John Sperling.

“The attempt to completely decriminalize drugs will tie the hands of judges who impose appropriate sanctions to try and ensure compliance,” said El Dorado County District Attorney Gary Lacy. “This is just the opposite of the three strikes law. There are some people who are addicts who are dangerous, so there has to be appropriate sanctions available to the judge.”

Rick Meyer, head public defender in El Dorado County, said the intentions of the bill are good, but that it doesn’t have enough teeth.

“It tells the drug user up front that there will be no incarceration for the first two drug convictions and a maximum of only 30 days for a third conviction,” Meyer said. “I’m afraid in the mind of an addict that will sound like two free passes.”

Meyer said he thinks the solution is modifying existing law. “We certainly can’t criticize legislators for adopting zero tolerance policies. But we have to consider the cost effectiveness of such policies,” he said. “With minor modifications of the existing … law we can dramatically reduce costs to taxpayers and protect the public without passing initiatives that emasculate our drug enforcement laws.”

An issue under contention is whether drug treatment programs in prison are effective. A 32-year-old recovering addict, who wished to remain anonymous, spent 13 months in prison after she was convicted of credit card fraud while she was a drug user.

Today she manages a house owned by Sierra Recovery Center, a South Shore center for substance abuse, and has been off methamphetamine for two years. In prison, a place she believes she needed to be to fight her addiction, she said she was one of the few people who was serious about the drug treatment classes offered.

“They don’t push for it in there. They do have a class, but they treat it as a joke,” she said. “For myself it took going to prison to change and some addicts are like that. But being given a second chance to go to treatment is a good idea rather than to go to jail, because jails are full of drug addicts, over full with them.”

South Lake Tahoe Police Commander George Brown said the police department is against the bill because the system is already geared to offer treatment before prison.

“By reducing the penalties for it we’re saying we don’t mind, is that the message we want to send?,” asked Brown, who worked narcotics for more than six years. “The focus of the courts has been on treatment. By the time someone gets some jail time, they’ve been down that road several times.”

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