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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Important Victory: Rep. Moe Maestas' Bill to Provide Treatment for Nonviolent Drug Offenders Passes House

Moemaestas120 Nonviolent drug offenders would have the opportunity to receive treatment rather than incarceration under legislation sponsored by Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas (D-Albuquerque). The legislation seeks to reduce repeat offenses by persons with substance abuse disorders by treating the condition of drug addiction rather than the act of drug possession. The measure, HB 178a, passed the House of Representatives today with a vote of 34-31.

"This bill will give judges the authority to focus on the treatment of nonviolent drug offenders as opposed to incarceration," Rep. Maestas said in a statement released today. "It would alleviate an already overburdened court system by focusing on the treatment of the nonviolent offender. This attempts to end recidivism and reduce drug addiction and hence, the property crimes it creates. Additionally, it has a potential of saving the state $22 million."

The bill was originally defeated in the House by a margin of 37-33 on Friday but -- thankfully -- gained new life when it was brought up for reconsideration today. Make no mistake about it. If this bill becomes law it would represent a major policy and very positive change in the "war on drugs" in New Mexico -- one that seeks to help non-violent offenders get a second chance in life if they earn it.

I think it's very important that we all thank Rep. Moe Maestas for this one. His views on dealing with the ramifications of drug abuse and addiction in a compassionate, productive and logical fashion are enlightened and practical. It takes guts to be out front on an issue like this -- one that's so fraught with myth and fear -- and I think Moe did it with an abundance of smarts and dedication. I think we should also express appreciation to everyone who vote for this bill. And it's essential that we contact our Senators to urge them to take the bill up and pass it, this year.

According to a statement released by House leadership, HB 178a creates a Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act to reduce the number of possession convictions by diverting misdemeanor and 4th degree felony offenders to treatment. It allows the courts to order an assessment of the person by a qualified treatment professional for the purpose of determining the person’s need for treatment and making recommendations for an appropriate treatment plan.

The court may, after a hearing and input from the state, refer the person to a substance abuse treatment program for a period of eighteen months or less. If the offender successfully completes the program, the court shall dismiss with prejudice the criminal proceedings against the person. The person may apply for an order sealing the record. The court may reinstate the criminal proceedings if the offender violates the terms and conditions of participation in the program.

The bill does not include drug traffickers.

According to the New Mexico Drug Policy Alliance, the state spent $22 million in 2007 to incarcerate or give probation sentences to nonviolent drug possession offenders.

February 16, 2010 at 08:57 PM in Addiction, Drugs, Justice, Law Enforcement, NM Legislature 2010 | Permalink


Finally...something sane progresses in the NM legislature!

This bill should be a no-brainer in our state but it isn't, so call your State Senators NOW and reverse the tide on the Prison Industrial Complex here, where we can afford that racist policy the least.

Posted by: Terry Schleder | Feb 16, 2010 9:32:02 PM

Does the offender still have to pay for the treatment, if they can find an opening? Won't this eliminate most clients?

Posted by: Michelle Meaders | Feb 16, 2010 9:47:44 PM

Michelle, do you assume all nonviolent drug offenders are poor? Kind of a stereotype. With the budget problems we have there's no way the bill would have any chance of passing if it paid for treatment. One step at a time.

Posted by: Greg | Feb 16, 2010 10:24:04 PM

Did anyone hear the interview with Gary Johnson on KUNM a couple of months ago? He was correct in saying that these coerced drug treatment programs do not work. A person can clean up for as long as it takes to get through the program and then go back to consuming be it food or drugs. A person does not give up a pleasurable habit for good until they want to quit with all their heart, mind and soul. Many illegal drugs do not harm the user to the extent that they would have a strong desire to quit except for the fact that it is illegal.
This harm reduction tactic is still a good direction because NM sure as hell can't afford to continue with the insanity of incarcerating non-criminals seeking pleasure as is human nature.
Legalize. Stop ruining the lives of our loved ones over this. Stop violating our Civil Rights over this. Stop proliferating prisons that coarsen our culture and bankrupt us over this.

Posted by: qofdisks | Feb 16, 2010 10:28:44 PM

Thank you for a sane alternative to throwing non-violent offenders into a for profit prison system that rehabilitates no-one, but converts lost souls into hardened criminals.

Posted by: Art Jaquez | Feb 17, 2010 8:47:48 AM

Here's why I was asking about paying for treatment: I used to work for a City-Funded agency that assessed and referred for Drug and Alcohol treatment. If the person was poor enough we issued vouchers to pay for the treatment. About half our clients came from Meto Court with DWIs. That has been cut back.

Some people have drug treatment provided by their employer for the first or second violation. If they got convicted, they may have been too poor to have this, or spent all their money on lawyers. We know that people who don't have to steal or prostitute to buy their drugs can often avoid the criminal system.

Posted by: Michelle Meaders | Feb 18, 2010 2:13:01 PM

Michelle - I think everyone would agree with you that it would be good to cover the costs of treatment. However, with the current budget hole, that's not gonna happen. This bill would be a great step on the path to sane handling of addictions and it is controversial with some narrow-minded legislators as it is.

Unfortunately, Senate Republicans held the bill hostage at the end of the session by killing time with silly amendments and long-winded speeches.

Posted by: barb | Feb 18, 2010 3:03:13 PM

Why can we always afford more prisons, which usually don't improve people, but not the much lower cost of treatment?

Posted by: Michelle Meaders | Feb 18, 2010 3:58:45 PM

That has to end.

Posted by: barb | Feb 18, 2010 5:52:56 PM