DENVER (KDVR) – [Drug users in Colorado may be doing less time in jail and more time in rehab if lawmakers can pass a bill that was introduced at the Capitol Tuesday with widespread support from Democrats, Republicans and district attorneys alike.
"While stiff sentences are appropriate in many circumstances, we realize that's not the only option when it comes to keeping the public safe," said Rep. Mark Waller, R- Colorado Springs, who is the sponsor of House Bill 1352, which would lower the penalties for people found in possession of up to 4 grams of most drugs, shaving years off sentences and saving the state money by vacating prison beds, advocates said.
"The savings need to be directed to treatment," said Pete Hautzinger, the Mesa County District Attorney. "So we're saving money by not locking people up, but we're using that money to help other people turn their lives around."
Supporters of the bill, a group that includes both Attorney General John Suthers and State Public Defender Doug Wilson, two long-time political adversaries, claim that, above all, the plan aims to draw a statutory distinction between drug users and drug dealers.]
While Colorado lawmakers are still ahead of many states in the country for supporting such a bill, several states have been promoting drug rehab centers instead of jail for many years. For example, California’s Proposition 36 was a groundbreaking state ruling that allowed non-violent drug offenderst to go to California rehab centers instead of being incarcerated.
After all, diverting first-time offenders for charges such as possession or DUI to drug rehabs has been proven to save lives and money over locking them up. The key to real long-term effectiveness though is for the states and the country as a whole to implement routine outcome monitoring for treatment programs to ensure that any public funding for such initiatives is directed to facilities that can demonstrate success.