TV president wants drugs decriminalized

Bay City News Service
Saturday October 21, 2000

‘West Wing’ actor Martin Sheen speaks out against California’s Proposition 36 


OAKLAND – Actor Martin Sheen joined Alameda County officials in Oakland Friday to speak against Proposition 36, a measure supporters say would put an end to prison sentences for non-violent drug users in California. 

Prop. 36 would allow those charged with drug-related offenses to join drug treatment programs. Once the programs are completed by the suspect in question, the charges would be dropped. 

Sheen says the proposition is misleading and allows drug users to go through relaxed treatment options that do not necessarily lead to sobriety. The actor claims his own life has been affected by drugs first-hand. 

“It purports a very simplistic solution to a very, very complex problem,” Sheen said about the proposition. “It cannot possibly work ... it has nothing to do with recovery, it has a lot to do with legalizing certain drugs.” 

According to Alameda County Superior Court Judge Richard Iglehart, the proposition would, perhaps unintentionally, “wipe out” drug courts, which in Alameda County have reportedly helped thousands of people to achieve sobriety since they were first instituted in 1990. 

Earlier Friday, Iglehart presided over the latest class of graduates from Alameda county’s four drug diversion programs. 

The ceremony, which Iglehart described as a “spiritual” experience, included skits, confessional testimony from the participants about their personal road to recovery and even a group sing-along that had everyone in the room – including the judge – shuffling from side to side and clapping along to the beat. 

The completion of the program leads to dismissal of charges or the sealing of records, Iglehart said. But although that sounds similar to what the proposition promises, he said, the proposition lacks the strong commitment to sobriety that the court system has shown. 

That commitment includes rigorous urine tests and the threat of incarceration if the tests turn out “dirty,” access to twelve-step programs and job assistance. It is only through the constant enforcement of these means that the recovering addicts are kept from relapsing, he said. 

Alameda County District Attorney Thomas Orloff also joined in the protest against the proposition, which he said would take away the judge’s ability to impose sanctions to keep the recovering addicts in check. 

“(Under Proposition 36) if you mess up treatment, you know what you get? You get a different treatment,” Orloff said. If that were to fail, he added, it would be followed by a court hearing to determine if the person is unaffected by treatment. 

If that were determined, the person would serve only a month’s sentence. “Then you’re all done, and you’re out of the system, and you start all over with your next arrest,” he said. 

A handful of the proposition’s supporters also attended the conference in order to present their views. 

Daniel Abrahamson, one of the proposition’s drafters, said Prop. 36 would add to the powers of the current judicial system, and would be available to everyone in the state, unlike the drug courts which only treat a small percentage of the population. 

“(The proposition) does not do away with drug courts,” Abrahamson said. “It expands treatment and adds another layer of supervised, responsible treatment.”