Keep fighting drugs
with enlightened policies


An advocacy group for drug policy reform has praised Hawaii for its approach to dealing with drug abuse.

PARTICIPANTS in a three-day drug-abuse conference in Waikiki entered today's closing session with sentiment that seems to reflect a growing public rejection of "get tough" policies and acceptance of the need for prevention and treatment. A report by a national group supporting drug policy reform gives Hawaii high marks for its approach in recent years. Actions needed to deal with what Governor Lingle calls the "scourge" of crystal methamphetamine should refine that approach.

A survey by Ward Research of 224 participants in the Hawaii Drug Control Strategy Summit confirmed that the state is headed in the right direction. More than 60 percent said treatment for crystal-meth addiction needs improvement, while 56 percent said prevention needs to be improved. Only 31 percent said law enforcement needs to be better.

A new report by the Drug Policy Alliance on laws enacted from 1996 through 2001 found that states were adopting approaches that treat drug addiction more like an illness than a crime. "Our key hope for this report," said Ethan Nadelmann, the group's executive director, "is that legislators around the country will increasingly appreciate that it's possible to introduce and support and enact sensible drug policy reforms without being accused of being soft on drugs or being soft on crime."

The Drug Policy Alliance report praises the 1997 Legislature for opting out of a federal welfare ban for former drug offenders by allowing them to receive benefits if they obtain drug treatment. It notes that Hawaii's Legislature in 2000 was the first to legalize marijuana for medical uses, enacting a law similar to those approved as voter initiatives in eight other states, and the first to enact major "treatment instead of incarceration" legislation patterned after polices approved by voters in Arizona and California.

Those Arizona (1996) and California (2000) initiatives mandated that first- and second-time offenders of nonviolent drug possession laws receive drug treatment instead of incarceration. The Arizona Supreme Court has said the system provides for "safer communities and more substance abusing probationers in recovery." In California, 30,469 people were diverted into treatment in the year leading up to July 1, 2002.

The report also lauds this year's Hawaii legislators for rejecting a bill, supported by Lingle, that would have allowed schools to require drug tests of students enrolled in athletics or "physically strenuous" co-curricular activities. Pointing out that many voiced concerns that the tests would keep more students away from extracurricular activities than those kept away from drugs, the report concluded: "The people of Hawaii still remain in the driver's seat of their government's drug policy and the politicians are listening."



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