Reviewing the 2008 November California propositions — Prop 5

Basic information about Proposition 5 — “NONVIOLENT DRUG OFFENSES. SENTENCING, PAROLE AND REHABILITATION. INITIATIVE STATUTE.”

Umbrella yes-vote site.

Umbrella no-vote site.

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So far I’ve done my best to read and review the propositions in great detail, if only because, even when my decision was already pretty clear to me, I wanted to make sure I knew as much as I could about each one. Something that affects the state constitution, after all, can’t be treated lightly.

Then I reached Proposition 5. Yikes.

If you read the official analysis in full…I freely admit, you’re a better person than I. This is something so wide-ranging in potential scope that I think you can only do it in bursts, and my eyes keep glazing over a bit as I try to concentrate on it.

This is a pity, though, because the issue is an excellent one to concentrate on — namely, how we judge and grapple with drug convictions, as well as look to questions of rehabilitation. It’s one of those issues that I can remember thinking about for at least twenty years now without pretending it’s been something to the forefront of my mind much — it’s always seemed removed to me, whereas for many people, whether as victim or prisoner or friend or relative or more, it’s a deeply felt situation.

In ways, the argument for 5 is similar to the argument for 1 — an investment for the future, in the hopes of improvement and a better deal for everyone all around. This is very emotionally appealing to me, since while it pitches things on a very broad scope it has a resonance. At the same time, there appears to be enough room for individual discretion on the part of many authorities in this proposed new system that there can be a necessary flexibility instead of a hard-and-fast holding to one policy or another.

The key argument against 5 for me comes back to something that I’ve been talking about already, namely questions of finance. 5, I think rather happily, does not involve bond issues of any sort, but it does involve what appears to be a huge commitment of fixed budget funding on state and local levels. Right now, I think, just isn’t the historical moment for such a commitment on top of everything else going on. Ten years ago, perhaps — perhaps ten years in the future, who knows. Now, though?

In summary, a quandary. I think the importance of rehabilitation, of recognition that the idea of punishment is something that is rarely meant to be a full ‘life sentence’ in the broad sense — how many times has the ‘lock ‘em up, throw away the key’ canard been invoked over the years? — cannot be understated, and I also think there needs to be at base a better sense of drug law in particular. I don’t know if Proposition 5 is fully the right solution, though it has aspects of interest. But I do think, with admitted regret, that it’s the wrong time — there may never be a right one, I realize. But there can be a better one.

A hesitant NO, in the hopes that something more practical may be suggested soon instead.

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