The Department of Human Services (DHS) in conjunction with the Governor’s Office, at the request and guidance of Drug Policy Alliance and other advocates such as the Equitas Foundation, submitted a request yesterday to the Colorado General Assembly Joint Budget Committee (JBC) to allocate over $6 million annually from the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund for grant-based initiatives that will create meaningful alternatives to criminal justice involvement for Coloradans with mental health or substance use issues. If successful over the 2017 legislative process the monies will increase the treatment, public health and harm reduction infrastructures for multiple jurisdictions in Colorado.
A portion of the funding is targeted for jurisdictions interested in implementing law enforcement assisted diversion (LEAD). LEAD is a pre-booking diversion program designed to promote public health interventions while reducing the role of the criminal justice system in the management of substance use-related problems. The policy is touted by advocates as a positive step to change law enforcement culture where drug enforcement is concerned. In the first year up to four localities will be chosen to pilot the program. LEAD is empirically shown to reduce recidivism, save money and improve police/community relations by giving police the infrastructure to steer low-level offenders toward supportive resources and away from criminalization. LEAD is already being implemented in multiple cities across the country including Seattle, Santa Fe and Albany. This funding provision creates the opportunity for jurisdictions in Colorado to adapt this innovative model locally.
“The intent of many voters in approving Amendment 64 was to find a criminal justice alternative to the War on Drugs. The LEAD model aligns with this intent by keeping low-level drug offenders out of the criminal justice system while offering them support to break the cycle of drug dependency, says Mark Bolton, senior deputy legal counsel to Governor Hickenlooper.”
Additional monies allocated in the request will continue funding or fund mental health co-responder programs like EDGE, and bolster the capacity of the Colorado Crisis Services System. Taken together, support for these initiatives signals a recognition that problems that may emerge as a result of drug use and mental health concerns are most efficiently addressed with a strong public health infrastructure rather than through criminal justice involvement alone.
“Drug use and mental health concerns are primary reasons many are drawn into the criminal justice system and the problem is compounded by other challenges like poverty, lack of social supports and selective enforcement of the law. It is inhumane and a waste of taxpayer dollars to keep arresting and incarcerating the same people over and over when they would be better served by access to wraparound services and case management support that a program like LEAD has to offer, ” says Art Way, state director, Colorado and senior director of criminal justice reform strategy at Drug Policy Alliance. “We commend Governor Hickenlooper and the DHS for taking this step to express clearly that Coloradans, including law enforcement, are no longer willing to solely depend on the criminal justice system to address public health issues.”
The Joint Budget Committee will consider the proposal in coming weeks and the General Assembly is expected to vote to finalize the budget request in early March.
The budget request can be found here.