Proposition 5 follows in the tradition of California ballot measures lined with good intentions and stuffed with disaster. It lures voters with a comforting mirage: a revamped and rational policy for treating drug addiction as an illness and confronting it through rehabilitation instead of punishment. But that's not what it would deliver. If it passes, Californians would soon learn that they had swept away the state's few successful diversion programs, inflicted chaos on the parole system, layered on a staggering new bureaucracy and set back the cause of modernizing drug treatment.
On the surface, the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act seems to be the logical next step after Proposition 36, a measure Californians passed in 2000 that mandates treatment instead of prison for most people convicted of drug possession. But this step isn't so logical. Under Proposition 5, an addict caught breaking into a home would be exempt from incarceration if his reason was to feed his addiction and if he agreed to treatment. Judges would likewise be unable to jail someone who stole a car, abused a spouse, drove under the influence (and injured someone), possessed an illegal weapon or committed a host of other crimes -- as long as the perpetrator swore that drugs made him do it. Even dealers profiting from others' addictions would be offered diversion. Addicts would get repeated chances at rehab instead of incarceration, no matter how seriously they tried -- or didn't -- to kick their habit.