LOS ANGELES – California is about to embark on an enormous social experiment as countless of its drug offenders head for treatment centers instead of prison.
Last Fall, voters passed Proposition 36 — a new law slated to go into effect on July 1 that will keep minor drug offenders from a life behind bars.
"We have never known what to do with these people," said David Fratello, the campaign director for Proposition 36.
"We've never invested in treatment. The idea now is get them out of their life of addiction, get them away from a lifestyle that promotes crime."
An estimated 36,000 offenders will be referred to treatment in communities all over California under the legislation which covers offenses for a variety of drugs.
"Proposition 36 essentially decriminalizes hard drugs like heroine, PCP, crack-cocaine, even date-rape drugs," said Fratello.
Actor Martin Sheen is the honorary chairman of Californians United Against Drug Abuse, a committee that opposes Proposition 36
"People want to see folks get help, they want to see people have treatment but then they're concern is this treatment provider facility is going to go up in my backyard," he said.
Resistance to new facilities puts enormous pressure on drug treatment centers like Clare House in Santa Monica, where there's little room for additional patients. Even with $120 million a year dedicated to the program, it may not be enough to keep the experiment afloat.
"Outpatient [care] is a little easier to provide, a little easier to fund ... the costs aren't nearly as extensive as when you're giving them 24 hours," said L.A. County Health Director Carol Morris.
County health directors, treatment providers and even Proposition 36 supporters predict thousands of drug offenders will abuse the new system, using their chance at rehabilitation as a get-out-of-jail-free card.
"This dangerous initiative hurts California's drug courts and opens the doors to fly-by-night treatment centers with no accountability," said Sheen.