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California Proposition 36 Drug Rehab Program

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

March 20, 2019

California Proposition 36 mandates that people convicted of simple drug possession enter an addiction treatment program rather than going to jail or prison. This way, these individuals can begin a life of recovery and hopefully go on to live a life of sobriety.

A California Proposition 36 drug rehab program is addiction treatment offered to a person convicted of a minor drug-related offense. The goal of this program is to help people who suffer from addiction rather than punishing them.

What Is Proposition 36?

Proposition 36 allows people who have been convicted of nonviolent drug possession in California to enter a treatment program instead of going to jail or prison. It is also known as the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act (SACPA) of 2000. Once a person completes treatment through this program, the charge and conviction will be removed from their record.

Often, individuals who end up in jail for drug possession become repeat offenders once they are released. When someone is addicted to drugs, they have little control over their use. Addiction is difficult to overcome without support and treatment, and jail offers neither of these.

When an addicted person goes to jail, they may endure painful and possibly life-threatening withdrawals from abruptly stopping drug use. This also does not help them in the long run. Withdrawal symptoms often lead people to take more drugs for relief, and simply detoxing the body is not a cure for addiction.

Proposition 36 deals with the root of drug abuse to prevent further problems, both for the individual and their community.

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Who Is Eligible For Proposition 36?

Proposition 36, commonly called Prop 36, is available to people who have been convicted of simple drug possession (using, transporting, or possessing drugs for personal use). This applies to first-time offenders or repeats offenders, as long as they plead “guilty.”

A person who pleads “not guilty” and takes their case to trial is unlikely to receive Prop 36 treatment, as their actions indicate that they are not serious about getting help. Likewise, someone who refuses treatment or has failed twice to comply with this treatment program in the past is considered “un-amenable” and will not be placed in treatment.

A few other things that make a person ineligible for a Prop 36 drug rehab program are:

  • prior conviction of a more serious felony (requires heavier punishment for repeat offenses under the Three-Strikes Law)
  • conviction of violent drug possession (such as using a firearm while under the influence)
  • conviction of any crime other than nonviolent drug possession at the same time as the possession charge

Individuals who are apprehended for manufacture, transportation, sale, or possession with intent to deliver drugs are ineligible for diversion under Prop 36. However, if their lawyer is able to prove that the criminal offense was related to their drug addiction, they may receive a lesser charge, which could make them eligible for Prop 36 treatment.

What Is A California Proposition 36 Drug Rehab Program?

A California Proposition 36 drug rehab program must take place in a state-licensed facility. The emphasis is not only on getting people who struggle with addiction into treatment but also on enrolling them in programs that will actually help. State-licensed programs provide evidence-based therapies and relevant treatment to give people the best chance at success.

Treatment may last up to one year and is often followed by six months of aftercare services. It can take place in an inpatient or outpatient setting. Recovering individuals are constantly monitored and required to follow-up in court at least monthly to show their progress.

Treatment in a Prop 36 drug rehab program generally includes:

  • detoxification
  • education
  • counseling
  • drug testing
  • vocational training
  • abstinence from drugs
  • medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioids
  • Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and/or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) classes

Individual counseling and group therapy are common treatment methods found in California drug rehab programs. Behavioral therapy and alternative methods such as yoga, acupuncture, meditation, recreation, and nutrition may also be used to provide holistic healing.

If a person fails to comply with the treatment program, they may receive jail time or closer monitoring. However, the California drug court system understands that relapse is part of recovery. A person may get another chance at treatment rather than a prison sentence, as they would receive with other felonies.

Since Proposition 36 caused thousands more people to seek treatment in California, it was necessary that more treatment options become available. In the first three years after Proposition 36 was approved, 705 new treatment centers were opened, and 179 of them were state-licensed residential facilities.

Who Pays For Proposition 36 Drug Rehab?

Proposition 36 drug rehab was largely funded by California taxpayers for the first decade, and convicted individuals were required to contribute to the cost if possible. Research has shown that diverting people to addiction treatment saves millions of dollars per year that would otherwise be spent on prison costs, court fees, parole supervision, and costs associated with repeat offenses.

Unfortunately, funding for this program stopped in 2010. While California continues to enforce Prop 36, many state-funded treatment centers are struggling to provide low-cost services and they often have long waiting lists. This makes it hard for the court system to keep track of people in line for treatment. It also keeps many people from getting the immediate help they need.

If a person is able to pay for treatment on their own, they can go to any state-licensed facility. Luxury and higher-end rehab centers provide more amenities and treatment options, and usually, have shorter wait times. Some are able to offer scholarships or other forms of financial aid.

Though these programs come at a higher cost, they are generally more comprehensive and staffed with qualified professionals who can provide the care needed for lasting recovery.

Does Health Insurance Cover Proposition 36 Drug Rehab?

Some drug rehab programs are covered by health insurance. Certain insurance plans—including all plans obtained through the Healthcare Marketplace—are required to cover mental health services to the same extent as medical care. This includes substance abuse treatment.

Medi-Cal is a free or low-cost insurance program that provides coverage to low-income individuals and families in California. Substance abuse services are part of the “essential health benefits” of this program.

Some insurance plans only cover a limited amount of treatment, and some may refuse coverage for Prop 36 drug rehab because it is related to a criminal offense. The best way to determine if a person’s health insurance covers a Proposition 36 drug rehab program is to contact their insurance provider.

Opposition To Proposition 36

Not everyone agrees with Proposition 36 because it views drug abuse as a medical problem rather than a criminal offense. Some fear that the decriminalization of drugs will encourage more people to try them, which could lead to other issues such as criminal activity and the development of substance use disorders.

Some people claim that Proposition 36 is ineffective because of low treatment retention rates. Since many individuals get more than one chance at treatment through this program, they may not take it seriously. This causes wasted time and money on the initial treatment, in addition to the cost of repeated offenses and further treatment.

Is Proposition 36 Effective?

Many people in California have benefitted from Proposition 36, finding freedom from addiction and living better lives after treatment. The cost of treating these individuals, who then stop committing drug-related crimes, is minimal compared to the cost of prison time.

Proposition 47, passed in 2014, reduces the charges for some drug possession cases from felony to misdemeanor. This means that individuals convicted with nonviolent drug possession may receive less jail time than previously. Despite this, many people still choose to enter treatment, as Prop 36 removes the offense from their record when treatment is complete.

Finding A Proposition 36 Drug Rehab Program

There are numerous state-licensed drug rehab programs in California that accept individuals on Proposition 36 diversion. These programs provide a wide range of services and many of them tailor treatment plans to individual needs. Residential treatment is often the most beneficial, as it removes distraction and negative influences so recovery can be a person’s main focus.

To learn more about finding a Proposition 36 drug rehab program, contact one of our treatment specialists today.

Health and Social Services - Implementation of proposition 36, Proposition 36

The Justice Policy Institute - Proposition 36: Five Years Later

East Bay Times - Money is gone, but Proposition 36’s drug-treatment mandate remains

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