News Release

Treatment, not prison, for drug users NACDL president urges support for California Proposition 36

Washington, DC (October 31, 2000) -- The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is recommending that California voters support California's Proposition 36, which mandates treatment, rather than the threat or reality of prison, for persons charged the first or second time with non-violent drug possession.

"Of all the non-prescription drugs available to us, two stand out as having caused the most death and destruction in society," said Edward Mallett, a Houston criminal defense lawyer who serves as president of NACDL. "Those are alcohol and nicotine."

"And we recognize, with those substances, that education and treatment are better alternatives than locking people up for simply using them. As defense lawyers, we'll gladly give up the opportunity to represent people charged with possessing other drugs if the government stops treating them like criminals," said Mallett.

Proposition 36 is modeled after an Arizona initiative, already in place and substantially successful, which requires treatment, rather than jail or prison, for simple possession of illegal substances.

Natman Schaye, a Tucson criminal defense lawyer, hails the Arizona law as improving lives and saving money. "We're finding that, instead of learning in prison how to be real criminals, most drug users are learning to lead productive lives and beat their drug habits," he said. "And treatment costs so much less than imprisonment."

According to the online information supplied by the California Secretary of State's office (vote2000.ss.ca.gov/VoterGuide), state and local government would save between $140 million and $190 million each year, plus potentially another $450 million to $550 million from not having to build a new prison, if voters pass Proposition 36. A year of prison costs taxpayers $25,000; a year of treatment costs only $4,000.

Mallett cites recent reports, in addition to those describing the Arizona success, as reasons for Californians to support Proposition 36. "Switzerland has now followed the Netherlands in decriminalizing marijuana. The Netherlands, according to a recent survey, has experienced a decrease in use of marijuana among youth 10-18 years old, and has a usage rate in that age group lower than that of the U.S."

"Every step toward treating drug addiction as a medical issue, instead of as a criminal issue, seems to yield positive results," said Mallett. "NACDL hopes the voters of California will take a cue from the Arizona experience and further lead the way to a more sound and rational drug policy in America." 

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The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.