Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

TOWN HALL: New bill would improve drug laws (poll)

WAYNE LAUGESEN Updated: March 20, 2012 at 12:00 am

The war on drugs has ruined lives, packed our prisons and hurt our economy. Drugs abuse is a scourge on society, but our efforts at a remedy have failed and may be worse than the problem.

Senate Bill 163, which enjoys bipartisan support of Republicans, Democrats, conservatives and liberals, would help move Colorado in the right direction.

The bill is sponsored by conservative Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, and liberal Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder — among others. It also has the enthusiastic support of the Independence Institute, Colorado’s renowned free-market public-policy think tank. This is not a right bill, a left bill, a Republican bill, a Democrat bill, a soft-on-crime bill or a tough-on-crime bill. It is a common sense bill that will improve society and reduce drug addiction.

The bill, very simply, would reduce possession of four grams or less of any schedule 1 or II controlled substance, such as marijuana or cocaine, or two grams or less of methamphetamine (schedule II), from a felony to a misdemeanor. By reducing incarceration the bill would save money, which the bill would require state government to reinvest into substance-abuse treatment programs throughout Colorado.

Research of a one-year period by Colorado’s Division of Criminal Justice revealed that of all drug abusers sentenced to prison, 60 percent were convicted of drug possession. In fairness, most of those prisoners are not guilty of drug possession alone. Drug addicts get themselves into all sorts of drug-related trouble, such as thievery, failure to pay fines and contempt of court for missing court dates or failing drug tests. We aren’t suggesting that it’s common for people caught with a small amount of marijuana, who have done nothing else, to end up in prison.

We do know that felony drug convictions for possession are used to incarcerate criminals who would fare better for themselves, and for society, if treated rather than caged. Instead of spending and average of $32,000 to imprison each convict for a year, we could spend that money to correct the course of the addict’s life. Instead of taking offenders off of payrolls and tax roles for years on end, often leaving their dependents to drain public resources, we could invest in making them more productive and responsible. We could invest in creating independence, rather than entrenching drug addicts into the endless cycle of state dependency that typically results from substantial time behind bars.

Do you support a bill to reduce incarceration of drug users and enhance drug treatment with the money that is saved? Vote in poll to the right. Must vote to see results.

The bill heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 28.

“This is such an important piece of legislation and I’m so proud that Republicans and Democrats have come together to make such meaningful and sensible changes to the way we approach drug abuse and incarceration in this state,” said Sen. Mitchell. “We need to be using our criminal justice resources more wisely and that means providing treatment to reduce drug addiction, not growing our felony population and overcrowding our prisons with low-level drug users.”

Sponsors of the bill, from the House and the Senate, will announce its introduction at 8:45 a.m. this morning in the third floor press room of the state capitol. The Gazette’s editorial board respectfully requests that legislators from the Pikes Peak region, and all other areas of Colorado, give Senate Bill 163 their support.

That's our view. What's yours? Please initiate or join in a Facebook discussion below, and vote in poll to the upper right.

Friend editorial page editor Wayne Laugesen on Facebook, follow him on Twitter

Must-see-daily site: Complete Colorado

Read SB163

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