A nation on drugs
Over a 24-hour period on Feb. 27, 16 people were arrested in Sonoma County, 11 of them for possessing minor amounts of illegal drugs and three of them for probation violations that may have been related to earlier drug convictions.
It’s too early to tell how many of those arrests ultimately resulted in felony charges, but all of them could qualify.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, the United States spends an average of $51 billion each year for the so-called war on drugs. In 2011, says the alliance, 1.53 million people were arrested on non-violent drug charges.
If you spend a little time reviewing the case files of chronic drug users in the Sonoma Valley, you soon notice familiar players and patterns. Arrests for possession of small amounts of methamphetamine and/or drug paraphernalia often lead to probation sentences, which lead to new arrests and sentencing for more meth possession, along with more probation violations. The merry-go-round keeps turning while the same cast of chronic riders keeps climbing on and off.
Some would call this a good example of the popular definition for insanity – redoubling an effort each time it fails.
We are a drug-addicted society. Vast quantities of prescription drugs are routinely abused and there is very little police, or the courts, can do to stop it when the supply is an open spigot and our culture is taught from childhood that there’s a pill or a potion for every physical and psychic pain.
Layered on top of the commercially produced supply of ostensibly legal drugs is a vast underground industry that churns out the deadliest and most socially-destructive chemical our pharmaceutically-obsessed society has concocted – methamphetamine. Meth is a seductive, soul-destroying scourge, and it’s cheap enough, and plentiful enough, to be available almost everywhere.
But, there is little evidence that the $51 billion we are pouring annually on the conflagration of illegal (and legal) drug use is having the intended effect. And Californians seem to understand that.
Last year, a survey conducted by California Tulchin Research, found respondents were more concerned with the state budget deficit than crime, and 87 percent of 800 people surveyed said they would support letting drug offenders avoid jail time if they complete drug treatment programs. The survey also revealed that 70 percent would support reducing the penalty for possession of small amounts of heroin, cocaine or meth from a felony to a misdemeanor.
In response, state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, has, for the second time, introduced a bill (SB 649), that would allow county prosecutors to charge low-level, non-violent drug possession as a misdemeanor.
The state Legislative Analyst’s office estimates penalty reductions would save counties some $159 million a year. That’s money that could be spent on treatment programs.
Leno insists, “There is no evidence to suggest that long prison sentences deter or limit people from abusing drugs.”
We agree. SB 649 won’t do much to address our collective drug addiction, but it will save money and could salvage a few lives.