Drug czar speaks out on Prop. 36

The Associated Press
Thursday October 26, 2000

SACRAMENTO — The nation’s drug czar has weighed in against a proposal on California’s Nov. 7 ballot that would require treatment instead of incarceration for nonviolent drug users. 

Proposition 36 threatens California’s existing drug treatment programs, White House Drug Policy Director Barry R. McCaffrey said Wednesday in an open letter to actor Martin Sheen. Sheen is honorary chairman of California United Against Drug Abuse, the proposition’s primary opponent. 

McCaffrey’s opposition four years ago wound up energizing supporters of a successful 1996 California proposition that permitted the use of marijuana for medical purposes, said Dave Fratello, campaign manager for the pro-36 California Campaign for New Drug Policies. 

“People really just reject the notion that the top cop for the drug war would tell them how to vote,” Fratello said. “By always picking losers, I think he’s shown he’s out of step.” 

McCaffrey said Proposition 36’s lack of funding for drug tests, coupled with a ban on short jail sentences, would mean less effective treatment for addicts, and would undermine judges’ discretion.  

The proposition requires treatment instead of jail or prison for those convicted for the first or second time of possessing drugs or being under their influence. 

Opponents had asked McCaffrey to consider holding a news conference outlining his objections. No such news event is scheduled with less than two weeks before the election, said Jean Munoz, a spokeswoman for opponents. 

Meanwhile, supporters of the proposal are launching a new 30-second television ad that dramatizes a California drug user going to jail while an Arizona user gets treatment. Arizona voters approved a drug treatment initiative in 1996.