Now is not the time to surrender to war on drugs

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Has the war on drugs been won?

Anyone who reads a newspaper, or even just pays attention, knows the answer is a resounding no.

That didn't prevent Congress from, in effect, running up a white flag late last year when it voted to deeply cut funds critical to drug suppression efforts in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties, not to mention the rest of the nation.

The fight is on now to restore the funding next year.

The germ of the issue is nestled within a massive 2008 federal appropriations bill signed into law in December by President Bush. Nationally it cut funding for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant from $520 million to $170.43 million. That's a 67 percent cut to major source of anti-drug money.

This year, the grant money equaled $629,000 for Tuolumne County and $525,000 for Calaveras.

If the cut is carried over into the next year, the responsibility for drug enforcement could shift from the specialized Tuolumne Narcotics Team to already short-handed patrol deputies, according to Tuolumne County Sheriff Jim Mele.

It would basically mean an unfunded narcotics unit within the Calaveras County Sheriff's Office, according to Calaveras Undersheriff Mike Walker.

The timing is bad.

Drugs notably meth and marijuana remain a top public policy issue in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties.

Drug arrests have climbed steadily over the past decade, figures from the state Attorney General's Office show.

Between 1996 and 2005, the number of felony arrests rose from 182 to 240 in Tuolumne County an increase of 32 percent. That's compared to about 14 percent statewide during that period.

Drug production has also continued at a steady clip. Marijuana suppression efforts on public lands seem to log record-breaking yields year-after-year, and meth production, silent for several years, is quietly returning to the scene, according to law enforcement officials.

Both Walker and Mele have contacted lawmakers with their concerns, urging the funds be restored as Congress hashes out the 2009 budget.

They are joined by state attorneys general and governors from every state.

We laud their efforts. Now is not the time to surrender.

Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board Publisher Ron Horton; editor Teresa Chebuhar; managing editor, news Craig Cassidy; senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.

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The Union Democrat
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