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Florida Drug Law Reform - Update 7-21-01

An Article By Terence T. Gorski
GORSKI-CENAPS Web Publications
Published On: July 21, 2001          Updated On: April 13, 2002
© Terence T. Gorski, 2001

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Florida Drug Reform: Update 7-21-01

The Gainesville Sun carried an article about the proposal to reform drug laws in the state of Florida on July 20, 2001.  This article presented a biased point of view against the proposed state constitutional amendment, dubbed the "right-to-treatment law".  Let's explore this bill and it's implications objectively.

What The Right To Treatment Law Says

Forst I recommend that everyone read the original text of the proposed legislation (  I've formatted the original text in a way that makes it easier to understand and read (click here to review reformatted text of the proposed legislation).

Here's a summary of what the Right To Treatment  Law is proposing in plane no-nonsense English:

1.    The law shall apply to be who are charged with or convicted of three drug related crimes:

A.    illegal possession of a controlled substance

B.   illegal  purchasing of a controlled substance

C.  illegal purchase or possession of drug paraphernalia

2.    Persons charged or convicted of one or more these three crimes (and only these three crimes) may elect to receive appropriate drug treatment instead of being sentenced or incarcerated.

3.    People will have the right to receive drug treatment for the first and second offense of these three crimes (and only these three crimes).

4.    After the second offense the court will have the discretion to either refer non-violent drug offenders for another attempt at treatment or to prosecute them under existing drug laws.  This gives the court discretion to deal with relapse as a treatment issue or a criminal issue dependent upon the circumstances and the judgment of the court as to what will be in the best interest of the individual, their family, and the community. 

5.    If more than one qualifying offense under this section (i.e. purchase or possession of an illegal control substance or paraphernalia) occurs during a single criminal episode, it shall be considered a single offense. 

6.    An individual who elects to receive appropriate treatment prior to conviction shall be deemed to have waived the right to a speedy trial.

7.    This proposed legislation will not apply to any individual who in connection with the same criminal episode as the drug offense is also charged with or convicted of other crimes.  The crimes specifically mentioned that would disqualify a person from the right to treatment under this proposed law are:

∑     any felony; any misdemeanor involving theft, violence or the threat of violence; 

∑     trafficking, sale, manufacture, or delivery of a controlled substance; 

∑     purchase or possession with intent to sell, manufacture, or deliver a controlled substance or drug paraphernalia; or 

∑     operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. 

8.    This section also shall not apply to any individual who, within five years before committing the drug offense described in (a), has been convicted of, or in prison for, one of the serious or violent crimes described in Section 775.084(1)(c)1.a.-r., Florida Statutes (2000), or such other violent crimes as may be provided by law.

9.    The Right To Treatment Law defines "appropriate treatment" to mean a state-approved drug treatment and/or rehabilitation treatment program, or set of programs, designed to reduce or eliminate substance abuse or drug dependency and to increase employability.   Such program or programs shall include, as deemed appropriate, access to vocational training, literacy training, family counseling, mental health services, or similar support services. 

10.    The determination of the type and duration of the appropriate treatment program or programs that an individual shall receive, and methods of monitoring the individualís progress while in treatment, shall be made by a qualified professional as defined in Section 397.311(25), Florida Statutes (2000).

11.  An individual receiving appropriate treatment under this section may be transferred to a different program due to violations of program rules or unsuitability to the form of treatment initially prescribed.

12.  An individual may be removed from appropriate treatment if, after multiple programs and violations, and upon an independent evaluation by a qualified professional as defined in Section 397.311(25), Florida Statutes (2000), the individual is found by the court to be unamenable to treatment and rehabilitation.   

13.  If the person has already been convicted of a drug crime and is removed from treatment, they can be immediately sentenced for the drug crime.

14.  If the person has been removed from treatment and has not yet been tried and convicted of the drug crime, they may be tried for the drug offense and if convicted may be sentenced for the offense. 

15.  Appropriate treatment shall be terminated upon an individualís successful completion of the prescribed course of appropriate treatment, or upon an independent evaluation and finding by a qualified professional as defined in Section 397.311(25), Florida Statutes (2000), that an individualís appropriate treatment has been successful, or eighteen months after the date the individual elected to receive appropriate treatment, whichever occurs first. 

16.  Upon termination of appropriate treatment, the individual may not be prosecuted, sentenced, or placed under continued court supervision for the offense which led to the appropriate treatment.

17.  This section shall become effective on July 1 of the year following passage by the voters, and shall apply prospectively only to qualifying drug offenses occurring on or after that date.

The Controversy

This proposed legislation has stirred heated controversy within the state.  The sides are being drawn between people who believe that Florida should manage non-violent drug offenders under the guidance of a Public Health Addiction Policy and those want to continue to incarcerate drug offenders under a War On Drugs Policy.  Treatment providers are caught in the middle.  Treatment providers who receive public funding are often torn between securing their funding by opposing this bill and by doing so endorsing a Drug War Policy, or threatening their funding by endorsing a Public health Addiction Policy which will threatened the continued growth of the Prison Industrial Complex which has been growing and expanding primarily as a result of incarcerating non-violent drug offenders. 

The War On Drugs Policy is based upon the following principles:

1.    Illicit drugs are the problem.

2.    Drugs are bad and drug use is wrong.

3.    Drug users are criminals and need to be dealt with as such.

4.    Strongly emphasizing treatment alternatives to incarceration and punishment means "getting soft on drugs" and that doing so will make the nation's drug problem worse.

5.    The best way to manage the drug problem is:  

∑     to keep drug possession and use illegal;  

∑     to continue to impose harsh sentences upon anyone who possesses or uses even small amounts of illegal drugs;  

∑     to divert the lions share of drug war  funding into paramilitary policing activities within our communities that aggressively seek out and arrest people who possess and use drugs; 

∑     to make the funding of community-based treatment alternatives a second priority resulting in a lack of community-based treatment resources;

∑     to make funding of treatment behind the bars second priority resulting in less than 12% of all people incarcerated for non-violent drug crimes being able to receive treatment.

The Public Health Addiction Policy is based upon the following principles:

1.    Addiction to drugs (both legal and illegal) is the problem.

2.    Drugs are dangerous and should be discouraged through high intensity community education, prevention, early intervention and treatment programs.  Appropriate laws should be enacted and kept in place to discourage drug use.

3.    Addicted drug users are sick people who require treatment, not bad people who need to be punished.  The goal of drug laws is to help addicted people, their families, and their communities to recover from the damaging affects of drug abuse and addiction.  The goal is not to punish drug users.  

4.    Most drug addicted people, however, will not voluntary seek or complete drug treatment.  To be effective drug treatment must be linked to the criminal justice system through a network of drug courts that offer treatment alternatives to incarceration, monitor progress and problems, and have the power to impose criminal sanctions if illegal drug use continues.  

5.    Strongly emphasizing punishment rather than treatment represents a "get tough and be dumb" approach that makes the problem worse by driving addicts deeper into antisocial drug cultures in order to evade capture and punishment.  By doing so the profitability of the drug trade is enhanced and the violence associated with the drug trade intensifies causing a spiral of escalating violence that puts addicts, their families, their communities, and law enforcement officers at greater risk of injury and death.

5.    The best way to manage the drug problem is:  

∑     to keep drug possession and use illegal;  

∑     to use arrest and/or conviction for a non-violent drug crime as an opportunity to intervene upon the addiction cycle by encouraging entry into and successful completion of community-based drug treatment or, if necessary, mandated treatment behind the bars in secure drug treatment programs.  

∑     to balance the investment of drug war  funding in a way that softens the intensity of paramilitary policing, increases the emphasis on community policing, and assures that effective no-nonsense drug treatment is available on request to drug abusers and their families; 

∑     to make the funding of community-based treatment alternatives a top priority to assure adequate community-based treatment resources to support the criminal justice intervention efforts;

∑     to make funding of treatment behind the bars a top priority to assure that all non-violent drug offenders who are sentenced to jail or prison receive drug treatment.

∑     to have the successful completion of treatment and a verified referral for ongoing monitored community-based treatment linked to early release.

This background on the drug law reform controversy will give you the basic information needed to responsibly evaluate the positions on both sides of the "Right To Treatment" Law.

The Players And Their Positions

The Florida Office of Drug Control is urging the members of Partners in Prevention of Substance Abuse Coalition, composed of drug treatment providers and officials from law enforcement, school boards, state agencies, the University of Florida and social services agencies from Alachua County and surrounding counties to join forces in  combating the proposal.  (The office of Drug Control supports an extreme Drug War Policy).  Look at what the leaders have to say:

"We will be opening up the floodgates for the large use of drugs if this passes," said Andy Benard, chief of strategic planning for the state office. "This is a Trojan-horse effort to decriminalize drugs."

The Drug War Supporters want to position this proposed legislation as a drug legalization move.  No one who reads this leglislation can seriously take this position.  The law does not make drug legal, it promotes a shift from a policy of harsh punishment of addicted drug offenders  to a policy of monitored and enforced treatment.  The treatment proposal is being funded in large part by the Lindesmith Foundation, a group from California and is supported financially by philanthropist George Soros.  In November, California voters passed a similar law, also backed by Soros.  That proposal required the state to spend $120 million a year for the treatment efforts.

"This amendment will undermine successful treatment by removing any sense of personal responsibility for the individual being treated, and will, in effect, render moot the Florida drug court system by removing strong incentives of the criminal justice system to stay the course to successful completion, as there would be no penalties for failure," McDonough recently wrote to Jim Pearce, chief executive officer of the Corner Drug StoreIn an early response to the initiative, which has already gained roughly 20,000 of the nearly 500,000 signatures needed to be placed on the ballot in November 2002, Office of Drug Control Director James McDonough voiced his disapproval.

Initial Response To The Proposed Law

This proposed law is not getting much news coverage from the main stream media.  It almost seems that there is a conspiracy of silence to keep people from knowing what is happening.  Many people who have heard about the legislation have received misinformation and don't understand what the proposed legislation actually says.

The people who support this legislation have powerful financial arguments to back them up.  Under the California proposal, which began this year, legislative analysts estimated the state would save $100 million to $150 million annually due to lower costs for prison operations.  According to a report from the state's Legislative Analyst's Office, "Assuming inmate population growth would have otherwise continued, the state would also be able to delay the construction of additional prison beds for a one-time avoidance of capital outlay costs of between $450 million and $550 million in the long term. Counties would probably experience net savings of about $40 million annually due primarily to a lower jail population."

According to a statement by Peter Banys, president of the California Society of Addiction Medicine, Richard Polanco, majority leader of the California state Senate, and Kay McVay, president of the California Nurses Association, "Right now there are 19,300 people in California prisons for this offense (drug possession). We're paying $24,000 per year for each of them. When they get out, many will return to drugs and crime. Treatment costs about $4,000, and while it doesn't help every drug user, it does reduce future crime more effectively than prison."

The supporters of this legislation also feel that it is an extension of what is already working in many counties throughout the state.  In Alachua County, for example, nonviolent drug offenders are already offered a similar avenue for treatment through a nearly decade-old program known as Drug Court.  The Police chief of Tallahassee is currently lobbying for drug courts to be expanded in his city.

Alachua County, however,  Sheriff Steve Oelrich and other officials oppose the proposed law, saying the law's supporters are pushing an image that the war on drugs has failed, when in reality, progress is being made.  "It's a bad idea," Oelrich said. "The image that we're going to have to fight is we have thousands of people languishing in our prison system arrested for an ounce of marijuana when that's not the only charge. They are usually charged with something else on top of the drug offense."

Note that the Sheriff's remarks evade the issue.  If most drug offenders committed other crimes in addition to possession or personal use they would not qualify to rights under this law.

So, in summary, the primary opposition to this bill  include the established Drug War Organizations such as the national and States offices of Drug Control Policy,  Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and those who receive substantial funding from the DEA, state prosecutors, and some sheriff's who got elected on a "get tough" approach to drugs.  The supporters of this bill are the informed members of the community who believe that the drug war has failed and is causing more problems to addicts, families and communities than it is solving.  This is a broad-based and diverse group of highly informed citizens.  The vast majority of people are not yet aware of this legislation are easily influenced by political rhetoric.

Other Articles On Florida Drug law Reform

Civilian Casualities of the Drug War - A Memorial
DEA Declares War on Over-the-counter Products - Man Sentenced To 51 Months In Jail
Drug Court Planned For Tallahassee Florida 010721
Drug Laws Used For Entrapment In Custody Case
Drug War Goes Bad In Jacksonville Florida
Florida - Analysis of Statewide Drug Control Efforts
Florida - Fiscal Impact Of Prisoner Education, Vocation, & Rehabilitation
Florida - Time Served In Prison 1979 -1999
Florida Conference On Designer Drugs - April 2001
Florida Cutbacks Reduce Offender Drug Treatment
Florida Drug Law Reform - Bush Attacks Ballot Initiative
Florida Drug Law Reform - Open Letter To Florida Today
Florida Drug Law Reform - Update 7-21-01
Florida Drug Law Reform Update 03-02-09
Florida Drug Law Reform Update 03-02-09
Florida Drug Reform - Text of Proposed Legislation
Florida Drug Reform Update 03-02-09
Florida Governor Signs Legislation Supporting Drug Court
Florida's Proposed Bill To Manage Prescription Drug Abuse (01-15-02)
Offender Treatment - Comparison of Prison & Non-prison Treatment
Orange County Florida Jail Allows Methadone After Two Deaths
OxyContin - A Prescribing Doctor May Face Murder Charges
OxyContin Deaths In Florida - Students Sentenced
Prescription Drug Abuse - Analysis of Florida Times Union Article of 010804
Work Release Program In Florida's Alachua County Proven Effective
Work Release Program In Florida's Alachua County Proven Effective


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