By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Proposition 36: Yes
Proposition 36 makes an important change in American social policy that’s long overdue. It acknowledges what has been obvious for years: The war on drugs is a flat failure. The policy of imprisonment for nonviolent offenders whose offense is the possession or use of drugs has filled our prisons, made us build more prisons, and filled them, too. It is the main reason why we have over 2 million people in prison, more than any nation except Russia. Because of this policy, California sends 24,000 nonviolent drug offenders to prison every year. Through the discriminatory enforcement of those laws, it has had a devastating effect on nonwhite young men; it is the main reason why fully one-third of young African-American men have gone through the criminal justice system.
And one more thing: It does not seem to have reduced the aggregate use of illegal drugs in the slightest.
Proposition 36 alters California law so that the penalty for first- or some second-time nonviolent drug offenders is probation and simultaneous mandatory, court-supervised treatment. Exceptions are made for users with records of a violent felony, or those who refuse treatment. The initiative allots an annual $120 million in state funds to counties to administer treatment programs. It allows judges to order drug tests for those under treatment, and to send those who fail such tests to prison for one to three years. In short, after decades of criminalizing nonviolent behavior or addiction, it proposes to treat that addiction. After decades of dealing with drug use simply as a problem of supply, failing at every turn, Proposition 36 proposes to deal with drug use as a problem of demand.
One of the biggest opponents of the measure, not surprisingly, is the prison guards’ union. Comparing the cost of treatment to the cost of imprisonment, the California Legislative Analyst estimates the state will save between $100 and $150 million every year on prison operating expenses, and about half-a-billion dollars on prison construction costs.
This measure does not decriminalize drug use, just changes the punishment. We think the manifest failure of our drug war, and the evils that it only compounds, makes a compelling case for treatment rather than imprisonment. Vote Yes on Proposition 36.
Proposition 37: No
This is a nasty piece of work. In 1991, the Legislature authorized the state Department of Health Services to impose a fee on manufacturers of lead-based paint, the funds to go to programs to detect contaminants that cause lead poisoning and to screening children and treating those who’ve been affected by lead poisoning. In 1997, the state Supreme Court unanimously upheld this law. To stop a further levying of fees on tobacco companies to pay for cancer treatments, or alcohol manufacturers to pay for treatment programs, the Chamber of Commerce, the Farm Bureau and kindred pillars of venality have placed Proposition 37 on the ballot. The measure amends the state constitution so that fees charged by state or local agencies to address industrial health or environmental problems are reclassified as taxes — thus requiring a two-thirds vote of the legislature or, in the case of localities, of local voters to enact.
The strategy here is obvious. The industries that have damaged public health believe that 1) the Legislature will be vulnerable to the charge that it raised taxes, and thus will be reluctant to do so, and 2) that local voters can be snookered into thinking their own taxes will rise if these fees-mislabeled-as-taxes appear on the ballot. In fact, if these fees are not levied on these companies, it is precisely the taxpayers who will pay to clean up the industries’ messes, since such work will have to be paid for out of the state general fund. Proposition 37 allows these companies to get away — somewhere between figuratively and literally — with murder, and make us pay for their crimes. Obviously, vote No.
Proposition 38: No
This measure, funded by politically ambitious Silicon Valley zillionaire Tim Draper, is the most extensive school voucher program ever proposed, and would cause the most extensive damage such a program has ever inflicted on public schools. It would offer parents throughout California, even the wealthiest ones, $4,000 a year in state funds to send their children to private or parochial schools, the checks going directly to the schools. The money would also go to the private and parochial schools in which nearly 700,000 California children are already enrolled, either forcing a tax hike or taking an estimated $3 billion away from our public schools without shifting a single new student into private education.
As public school systems in major cities fail to deliver quality educations, proposals for voucher programs are increasingly being floated (though Prop. 38 is the first such proposal to apply across-the-board through an entire state). The best private schools cost much more than $4,000 per year, and they already have many more applicants than they can accept. Moreover, they are free to reject applicants by any criterion they choose. Children who may pose “special difficulties” — who have learning or behavioral problems, who aren’t performing at grade level, who are poor, whose skin color is wrong — are likely to be clustered in the public schools or in inferior private schools set up simply to get state money. We already have a two-tier system of affluent suburban and non-affluent urban schools today. Vouchers only intensify this problem, particularly inasmuch as a recent Stanford/Berkeley study has shown that affluent parents are much more likely to use vouchers than poor ones.