Incorporating a Public Health Approach in Drug Law: Lessons from Local Expansion of Treatment Capacity and Access under California's Proposition 36


Address correspondence to: Dorie Klein, Public Health Institute, 555 12th Street, Oakland, CA 94607 (e-mail:


A major state drug abuse initiative, California's Proposition 36 of 2000, mandated that adults convicted of drug possession be offered treatment in lieu of incarceration. While the law expanded public treatment for arrestees, the counties were given discretion in structuring their systems of care and procedures to manage clients. Using data from a study of key informants in eight counties, this article examines local planning to increase drug treatment capacity and manage clients' access to treatment. In both these planning domains, it describes the counties' strategies and concerns, reasons for their differences in approaches, and whether and how this state initiative, which explicitly incorporated treatment objectives into penal drug law, will shift the debate over drug abuse policy toward greater consideration of public health goals.