Florida Drug Reform:
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
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:
law shall apply to be who are charged with or convicted of three drug
illegal possession of
a controlled substance
illegal purchasing of a controlled substance
C. illegal purchase
or possession of drug paraphernalia
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.
People will have the right to receive drug treatment for the first
and second offense of these three crimes (and only these three crimes).
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
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.
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
any felony; any misdemeanor involving theft,
violence or the threat of violence;
trafficking, sale, manufacture, or delivery of a
purchase or possession with intent to sell,
manufacture, or deliver a controlled substance or drug paraphernalia;
operating a vehicle under the influence of
alcohol or a controlled substance.
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
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
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).
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
The War On Drugs Policy is based upon the following principles:
Illicit drugs are the problem.
Drugs are bad and drug use is wrong.
users are criminals and need to be dealt with as such.
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.
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
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
Addiction to drugs (both legal and illegal) is the problem.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.