A bill that could add jail sanctions to Prop. 36—the voter-approved initiative that allows nonviolent drug offenders to enter treatment rather than jail—stalled last week after the state Assembly's six-member Public Safety Committee appeared likely to oppose it. San Diego Sen. Denise Ducheny, who authored the bill, withdrew it without a committee vote.
Ducheny didn't return a phone call by press time, but she told CityBeat two weeks ago (Please see our Aug. 17 story) that jail time for drug offenders in the Prop. 36 program will only enhance the program's efficacy. Right now roughly one-third of folks who enter treatment under Prop. 36 complete those programs, according to a study released last month by UCLA. Opponents of SB 803 say there's no evidence that the threat of jail will force drug addicts to complete treatment and that sometimes it takes two or three tries at treatment before an addict can successfully kick the habit.
Glenn Backes, director of health policy for the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group that opposes SB 803, was at the committee meeting and said that out of the six committee members, only two-Rebecca Cohn and Mervyn Dymally, both Democrats-expressed support. Opposition included Democrats Jackie Goldberg and Mark Leno as well as two Republicans, Mark Spitzer from Orange County and Jay LaSuer, who represents North County. LaSuer, Backes said, kept mum during the meeting, staring at Ducheny even when she asked him to indicate his position on the bill.
“He looked like Sam the Eagle from the Muppets,” Backes said. LaSuer did not return CityBeat's phone call.
Ducheny has the option to revise the bill and resubmit to the committee. Regardless, funding for Prop. 36 runs out next year, and it will be up to the governor and the Legislature to decide whether it's worth re-funding. “[SB] 803 or not, the debate over Prop. 36 begins in earnest in January,” Backes said.