DC Board of Elections Recommends Certification of Petition for Drug Treatment Instead of Incarceration Initiative
The DC Campaign for Treatment -- a District-based organization formed for the purpose of promoting treatment and other alternatives to help drug offenders -received a report on August 9th from the DC Board of Elections and Ethics recommending that Measure 62, "Treatment Instead of Jail for Certain Non-Violent Drug Offenders Initiative of 2002," appear on the ballot in November. Nearly 40,000 signatures were turned in for the initiative, which was over twice the 17,455 needed to be placed on the ballot. Considered one of the most important initiatives to be put to DC voters, if passed, this initiative would allow substance abuse treatment rather than incarceration for eligible non-violent, first or second time offenders charged with simple possession or use of certain drugs. Getting certified to be placed on the DC ballot has become an issue amid the District's recent high-profile cases of petition problems.
Mayor Anthony Williams' nominating petitions, which were found to be plagued with irregularities, has prevented him from being placed on the Democratic primary ballot. The DC Board of Elections (BOEE) has also prevented the Medical Marijuana initiative from being placed on the ballot for what they say is a lack of valid signatures. The Marijuana Policy Project, the sponsor of the initiative, is fighting the BOEE's ruling. In the wake of the controversies, the DC Campaign for Treatment and other supporters of the initiative were relieved at the news about Measure 62.
"We never thought we would be so happy just to get this important measure approved to be on the ballot," said Bill McColl, President of the DC Campaign for Treatment and Director of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. "This initiative will help District residents struggling with addiction get the treatment that they need. It will keep residents here in the District with their families where they belong. Similar initiatives have increased treatment in California and Arizona and it will work in the District too."
The DC Campaign for Treatment's Outreach Coordinator, Opio L. Sokoni, has been working to build support for the DC initiative. Sokoni, an activist, civil and human rights attorney trained at Howard University, said, "There has never been a more pressing time for us to have this measure in place. For instance, of the reported 60,000 who need treatment, only 10,000 are getting it." Experts say that treatment quality and diversity will improve under the "treatment instead of jail" measure so that clients can be treated in a more holistic manner, and may not need to supplement their treatment with "black market." Signatures are being gathered for similar "treatment instead of jail" initiatives in Michigan and Ohio for the November ballot, while another has been approved in Florida for 2004.
DC's Measure 62 is modeled after California's Proposition 36 (2000) and Arizona's Proposition 200 (1996). Prior to passage, California's Legislative Analyst's Office estimated that Proposition 36 would divert over 36,000 non-violent drug offenders to treatment annually, saving California taxpayers approximately $1.5 billion over the next five years, and preventing the need for a new prison scheduled for construction. In just one year since the passage of Prop. 36, California has increased the number of licensed and certified substance abuse
slots by 68%. Similarly, Proposition 200 in Arizona has diverted 2,600 drug offenders into treatment and saved Arizona taxpayers $2.56 million during its first year of implementation and over $6 million in prison costs within its second year, according to a study by the Arizona Supreme Court.
"It just makes sense to treat drug addiction as the health issue that it is, instead of wasting
millions of taxpayer dollars trying to incarcerate our way out of our drug problems," said Katharine Huffman, Director of State-Based Projects at the Drug Policy Alliance.
Measure 62 is being sponsored by the DC Campaign for Treatment -- a collaborative effort of the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation's leading organization promoting sensible alternatives to the war on drugs, and Campaign for New Drug Policies, a national organization aimed to reform drug laws and policies.