Legislators Willfully Gut Voter-Mandated Drug Treatment Program, Endanger Entire Initiative Process

Press Release June 27, 2006
Media Contact

Margaret Dooley at (858) 336-3685 or Daniel Abrahamson at (510) 229-5212

SACRAMENTO — In a vote late last night, the Legislature radically rewrote voter-approved Prop. 36, the state’s treatment-instead-of-incarceration law passed in 2000, to allow jailing of nonviolent drug offenders. The Drug Policy Alliance warned today that the trailer bill passed last night, SB 1137, will not withstand a court challenge which could begin as early as Monday, assuming the bill is signed into law by the Governor on Friday, along with the state budget.

Daniel Abrahamson, director of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, warns, “The Office of Legislative Counsel and probably even the Governor’s own lawyers have told him that this bill is unconstitutional. We will ask the Governor to do the right thing and veto SB 1137. However, if the Governor allows the bill to become law, we will challenge it in court and are confident that it will be struck down.”

The legislative undoing of Prop. 36 comes just days after the Governor announced a special legislative session to address the state’s prison crisis. SB 1137 would alter Prop. 36 to allow the exclusion of many nonviolent drug offenders from the program (many of whom will instead receive jail or prison terms) and the incarceration of individuals engaged in Prop. 36 treatment.

Prop. 36 supporters are concerned that SB 1137 threatens not only the state’s drug treatment law, but the entire initiative process in California. The bill includes language that would call for an “automatic ballot initiative”, if any part of the legislation is found by a court to be “invalid,” or unconstitutional.

Margaret Dooley, Prop. 36 outreach coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance said, “What elected officials did last night was reprehensible. They unlawfully overrode the expressed will of the people of California and did so despite the state’s own studies proving that the program is working. SB 1137 reverses the state’s only effective prison reform in a decade and sets a precedent that would allow legislators to rewrite any voter initiative they happen to disagree with.”

In 2000, 61 percent of California voters approved Prop. 36, permanently changing state law so that all eligible nonviolent drug possession offenders must be given the option of state-licensed treatment. Since the initiative passed, over 60,000 Californians have graduated Prop. 36 treatment and taxpayers have saved $1.3 billion. And, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, numbers of nonviolent drug prisoners are down dramatically thanks to Prop. 36.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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