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Judge Bars Tougher Drug Rehab Law

July 14, 2006|Evan Halper | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — A Northern California judge on Thursday blocked, at least temporarily, sweeping changes to the state's landmark treatment program for drug offenders signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this week.

The new law, SB 1137, adds tough provisions to Proposition 36, which gives tens of thousands of drug offenders the option of entering treatment facilities instead of going to jail.

The changes championed by Schwarzenegger would allow judges to incarcerate offenders who relapse for up to five days.

Drug treatment advocates say that the measure, which was written by Sen. Denise Ducheny (D-San Diego) and passed by the Legislature last month, is illegal because it would change an initiative approved by voters without their consent. Proposition 36 was passed in 2000.

The drug treatment advocates filed a lawsuit as soon as the governor signed it into law Wednesday.

By Thursday afternoon, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith had issued a temporary restraining order against the measure.

Smith wrote in her order that the plaintiffs in the case, which include the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance and the California Society of Addiction Medicine, "have a substantial likelihood of success" of overturning the new law in court. The order prevents any implementation or enforcement of the measure pending litigation. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for July 28.

Daniel Abrahamson, director of legal affairs for the alliance, said: "Proposition 36 is very clear that people are supposed to receive treatment, not incarceration."

Voters may have the ultimate say over whether the new changes take effect. The Legislature included language in the new law that sends the measure to the ballot if any part of it is overturned in court.

Supporters of the measure expressed confidence that they will prevail.

"Our intention is not to punish, but to give judges tools to encourage successful treatment," said Ducheny spokesman John D. Ferrera. "That's what California voters wanted."

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