Attorney David West of Atlanta was representing a client busted for possession of pot. Faced with the prospect of losing his driver’s license and being haunted by a criminal record, the client opted for treatment through a drug court, says the Los Angeles Times. The intensive, costly therapy was more appropriate for a heroin addict, West said. What he found particularly absurd was the requirement that his client enroll in and pay for three months of martial-arts training. “It is ridiculous,” said West, who has since had other clients ordered to take karate. “What does that have to do with marijuana?” Both the White House and prominent Republicans have pushed to expand drug courts, which allow drug offenders to choose court-supervised treatment over punishment. There is little doubt that such programs can sometimes have dramatically positive effects.
Many longtime supporters of the program have become dismayed by the extent to which the courts now reach into the lives of people whose only infraction was to light up a joint. Though drug courts have been pitched as a way to divert hard-core addicts from prison and into treatment, strict eligibility rules in many jurisdictions bar chronic abusers of hard drugs. “For serious drug offenders it has been a far better alternative than prison,” said John Roman of the Urban Institute. “The problem is very few people who have those serious problems get into one of these drug courts. Instead, we take all kinds of people into drug court who don’t have serious problems.” As a result, the courts, which are controlled locally and now number 2,700, have become a battleground of marijuana politics.