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Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Hawaii State Seal

Lawmakers not swayed
by California’s passage
of drug-treatment plan

By Mary Adamski

Authors of a recently passed California initiative to put nonviolent drug offenders into treatment instead of prison preached to a crowd of believers at Kaumakapili Church.

The speakers last night failed to make converts out of two Hawaii legislators whose response was "not in my constituents' back yards."

Legislature "I'm not going to endanger my community by having these people treated in their backyards without having the security issue addressed," said Rep. Nestor Garcia (D, Waipahu).

"The people I represent want to see affirmative action," said Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae). "They want to see them (drug abusers) out of the community; they don't want them to come back."

"They don't want to believe it is like an illness. They consider (drug users) as people tormenting them, ruining their neighborhoods," she said.

Bill Zimmerman and Dan Abrahamson described Proposition 36 to a supportive crowd of about 60 at a public panel discussion sponsored by the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii and other organizations.

'Drug war hasn't worked'

Some 61 percent of California voters last year approved the initiative which will put people arrested for drug abuse not tied to other criminal charges into rehabilitative treatment instead of prison. Voters approved spending $120 million annually for five years, plus $60 million to build up treatment capacity.

Zimmerman said California politicians also opposed the idea, but a statewide public opinion poll revealed that the "political system is lagging behind" but the "public has come to understand we have spent $300 billion supporting the drug war and it hasn't worked."

The politicians are coming around, he said.

Weakened Hawaii legislation

There is no citizens' ballot initiative in Hawaii. Gov. Ben Cayetano proposed implementing similar legislation here, providing first-time offenders be diverted to treatment instead of prison. But bills in both houses of the Legislature have been watered down by excluding crystal methamphetamine users, a major portion of Hawaii drug abusers.

Lawmakers also inserted language providing for prison as an incentive to seek rehabilitation.

Hanabusa told the crowd: "I believe the Legislature believes the rehabilitation part has to go forward." But before lawmakers could appropriate money to expand treatment facilities, "we would have to convince (voters) that what is spent, they will get back in reduction in crime.

"My community lives this issue," she said.

Garcia, chairman of Public Safety and Military Affairs Committee, said: "I'm not quite sure my friends at Salvation Army, or Hina Mauka or Fresh Start are equipped to take these kinds of people in. Especially when people in their neighborhoods find these kind of people are being treated in their backyards."

Hanabusa said that even though the current bills are a "compromise in the language ... we've got to take a first step."

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