From Punishment to Treatment – MN Bill Aims to Fight “War on Addiction”

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Minnesota could soon be seeing another change to its drug laws and policies.  Senator Ron Latz (DFL – 46) has a bill making its way through the state legislature that intends to change the “war on drugs” to a “war on addiction.”  SF 3481 includes several drug reform provisions to offer leniency for first-time offenders, increase the criminal threshold amount for certain substances, and to expand treatment options.

During a hearing Monday in the Senate Judiciary Budget Division, Senator Latz explained his goal is to use savings on incarceration that result from this bill to “start a grant program to go to local governments and nonprofits for chemical dependency treatment and programs.”  Ramsey County Attorney John Choi echoed Senator Latz’s hopes, explaining that his department is “going to do everything possible to ensure the public” that money saved by provisions in this bill will be “reinvested in treatment.”

Specific provisions of the bill include increasing 1st degree narcotic sale thresholds from 10 to 17 grams (unless the offenders possessed a gun or two aggravating factors existed – Heroin threshold would remain at 10 grams), increasing 1st degree narcotic possession thresholds from 25 to 50 grams (with the same exceptions), reducing the penalty for first-time 5th degree controlled substance crimes involving possession of a small amount, “Create a Community Justice Reinvestment Fund” and “provide that money saved from a reduction in incarceration resulting from this proposal” in to a fund to pay for “community programs aimed at prevention and treatment of chemical addiction, including the funding of drug courts.”

As for treatment options the bill’s Drug Sentencing Proposal Summary explains it would, “Expand eligibility of the Conditional Release of Certain Nonviolent Controlled Substance Offenders Program to include 4th and 5th degree sales crimes, and reduce the minimum number of months served from 36 months to 18 months for 4th and 5th degree offenders.” The text also states the bill would “remove a disincentive for joining the program by ensuring that an offender who does not successfully complete the program is not punished for having attempted it.”

Though the bill passed through the committee Monday, Senator Kathy Sheran (DFL – 19) warned her colleague that his greatest challenge with this will be directing the money saved from lower incarceration to treatment plans.  Sheran explained that the money saved will not automatically go towards these causes, and that Senator Latz will need to fight for those dollars “when they’re dividing up the budget and giving money to your [his] division.”

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