Washington State activists have filed a proposed ballot initiative that would remove criminal penalties for simple drug possession and direct nearly $150 million annually to expand substance misuse treatment, with a focus on outreach and long-term recovery support. “Treating drug use as a crime has caused more harm than good,” says the measure’s statement of intent. “It has failed to produce positive outcomes like reduced rates of substance use disorder and drug overdose. It has failed to address the root causes of substance use disorder like social isolation, depression, and anxiety. It has instead subjected people to the compounding traumas of arrest, prosecution, and incarceration, and saddled them with criminal records that erect barriers to stable housing, employment, and protective social connections.” The group behind the would-be initiative, Commit to Change WA, announced last September that it was working on ballot language and would begin gathering signatures this month. The campaign is expected to begin publicizing the measure in coming weeks, with the goal of qualifying it for November’s ballot. The measure was officially filed last month, and Monday was the deadline to submit challenges to the official ballot title, which says, “This measure would fund substance use disorder prevention, outreach, recovery, training, study, and public education; decriminalize drug possession but allow seizure and forfeiture; authorize vacation of certain drug-related convictions, and amend related laws.” In 2020, voters in neighboring Oregon passed a similar ballot measure to decriminalize drugs and fund access to treatment and harm reduction services. If the new Washington initiative gets on the ballot and a majority of voters approve, it would eliminate the state’s existing penalties around possession and use of all drugs. Authorities could still seize illegal substances, but law enforcement would then have to refer individuals to outreach services, where people could access treatment and be connected with other support programs.
Ben Adlin, Marijuana Moment, 02/08/2022 10:22:00