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U.S. drug czar says Prop. 5 'weakens' criminal justice system

SACRAMENTO -- The country's top drug cop came to Sacramento on Tuesday to rip Proposition 5 as a back-door move to legalize drugs in the United States.

In blasting the measure on the Nov. 4 ballot, National Drug Control Policy director John Walters leveled some of his hardest shots at the measure's principal backer, billionaire financier George Soros of New York.

Walters said Soros and his Drug Policy Alliance can't achieve drug legalization "by being honest and straightforward," so they've offered Prop. 5 as a treatment plan for nonviolent offenders that will unclog California's overcrowded prisons.

In the process, Walters said, the initiative will undermine court-based treatment programs and "weaken our capacity to help people in the criminal justice system" who still remain subject to punishment if they fail.

Also criticizing Prop. 5 was Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin who said would add another level of bureaucracy for an already financially strapped state government.

Voters need to read the fine print, Pazin told the Sun-Star.

"Look past the initial summary on the proposition, and you will find another piece of bloated bureaucracy at the state level," he said. "You will find that all of the money, instead of going to already in place programs, is going to get mired down in Sacramento bureaucracy."

Yes on 5 spokeswoman Margaret Dooley-Sammuli called the initiative a "common-sense response" to drug-related crime and blasted Walters as a spokesman for failed criminal justice policies.

The initiative would increase spending on drug programs by hundreds of millions a year and divert a range of offenders incarcerated on drug and property crimes out of prison and into treatment.

Proponents say the measure will lower prison costs by treating offenders as addicts instead of criminals. Opponents say that will give addicts more opportunity to commit crimes by reducing the accountability they would face in the criminal justice structure.

Prop. 5's backers include the League of Women Voters, the California Labor Federation and assorted unions, drug treatment providers and civil rights groups.

Opponents include Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, California Attorney General Jerry Brown and the state's leading law enforcement management and labor organizations.

Sun-Star Reporter Victor Patton contributed to this report.