Facing up to our drug problem

Vermont continues to confront a serious drug abuse problem. Too many out of state drug dealers view Vermont as a safe, profitable place to deal their poison. Every elected official has an obligation to evaluate what message their actions send to would-be dealers and when an action or practice fosters this view of Vermont, I have a duty to act. If you ask anyone in law enforcement, ask anyone in social services, ask a teacher or a principal, ask a parent if drug abuse is a problem in Vermont, and the answer will be a resounding yes. I support a discussion about how to improve our drug laws. Since becoming governor, my drug education, treatment, enforcement and rehabilitation (DETER) program has beenand continues to beone of my top priorities. In my view, diverting all first-time marijuana possession cases regardless of the quantity involved turns a blind-eye to the law and the larger problem of substance abuse in Vermont. Such a practice pushes aside prosecutorial discretion in favor of a one-size-fits-all drug policy. It is also my view that allowing a public officialwho knows the laws and holds others accountable to themto use court diversion in a case involving substantial quantities and a sophisticated operation to cultivate an illegal substance sends a message that those entrusted to uphold laws only get a slap on the wrist when they violate them. And, as Atty. Gen. William Sorrell said publicly, If all first-time marijuana possessors and cultivators in Windsor County are treated with diversion, I guess thats the county in which you ought to be in that business I was heartened to hear on the news last nightand again from him this morning in a communication to my officethat Windsor County States Atty. Robert Sand will not have a one-size-fits-all practice or policy for Windsor County. Coupled with his dialogue with Windsor County law enforcement officials, and his acknowledgement that earlier statements may have created the impression of a blanket policy, represent a meaningful effort to restore balance in the criminal justice system in that county. I consider these steps a good faith effort by Mr. Sand, and have decided to lift my order requiring state law enforcement officers to send first-time marijuana possession cases involving significant quantities to the Attorney General or U.S. Attorney for an initial prosecutorial review. Ultimately, we will succeed in confronting substance abuse by preventing it before it begins. Through my DETER initiative we have invested nearly $22 million to help communities be healthier and safer, and we are educating young Vermonters about the dangers of drugs so they have the strength and courage to refuse them. DETER has provided Vermont with a sustainable strategy to address todays substance abuse problems and reduce tomorrows risk. It is a multi-faceted effort to address Vermonts drug epidemic. Through this program we have put more cops on the beat and more hardcore drug dealers behind bars. Weve significantly increased capacity for outpatient treatment around the state; added heroin treatment capacity; put drug counselors in our schools and a recovery center in every region; added a new residential treatment facility for women and adolescence, as well as transitional housing for those in recovery; and taken steps to better address the needs of individuals with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders. All together, this is the most coordinated substance abuse prevention program Vermont has ever had. But there is much more to do. Drugs like heroin, crack cocaine and prescription painkillersand the out-of-state peddlers who push themcontinue to be a problem. Moreover, binge drinking and marijuana use among young people in Vermont continue to be well above national averages. The social and economic cost of substance abuse is severecontributing significantly to health care costs, crime, domestic violence and other serious social ills. Our focus needs to remain on preventing substance abuse before it begins. But make no mistake, in word and deed I will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Vermonts law enforcement community as we fight those who poison our children for profit. Gov. Jim Douglas

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