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Snohomish County prosecutor asks for community help to reverse drug policy

Snohomish County's Prosecutor hopes to reverse a drug policy he sees as counterproductive. (Photo courtesy of Seattle Police)

The Snohomish County prosecutor is waging a campaign to change a controversial drug policy. He is now asking for help from the community.

Snohomish County prosecutor wants to abolish 2-gram drug policy

A little more than a year ago, Snohomish County enacted a policy of not prosecuting people busted with two grams or less of any drug. It was controversial but necessary, according to then-prosecutor Mark Roe.

Roe said the county lacked the resources to prosecute those low level drug offenses, and needed the resources they had to focus on violent crimes.

Recently, new Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell announced his plan to reverse that policy, and he’s bringing it up again, hoping to rally the local community behind the proposal.

“The word on the street is if you have less than two grams of a controlled substance, you’re not going to get arrested. That doesn’t really sit well with me,” said Cornell.

One thing he wants to make clear, though, is that reversing the policy is not about locking more people up.

That means giving people a choice, and offering them an alternative to prosecution through one of the county’s many diversion programs. And as for the ultimate goal of that strategy?

“Looking at addressing the root causes of why people are engaging in criminal behavior in the first place and providing people a choice; giving people an opportunity, who are struggling with addiction to have the benefit of alternatives to incarceration,” Cornell explained.

Cornell is hopeful most of the people busted for two grams or less will opt for these alternative programs rather than jail time.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure you have the support to succeed in those programs,” he said. “But, if you just decide, ‘I don’t want that, and I can do 10 days in jail,’ then we’re going to prosecute those cases — at some point, there has to some level of accountability for people who would break the law.”

As he said when he first announced this, Cornell stressed he can’t do that on his own. He’s looking for just over $350,000 in the upcoming budget to hire a couple deputy prosecutors and other staff to aid the cause.

To get that funding, he’s needs to convince the county executive and county council, and that’s where he says folks who live in the community come in.

“I’m trying to stimulate a public conservation about what kind of community you want to live in,” he said. “Contact the Executive, contact your county councilmember, and tell them what kind of community you want to live in — ultimately, we’ll let the people decide if they want to help me reverse this policy, but I can’t do it alone.”

He’s already got the support of the sheriff, and Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman. Tempelman says his officers are frustrated with the current policy, because it takes away a tool they have to fight street level drug use. According to him, a lot of times it’s the threat of a charge that motivates someone to decide to get help, and right now they don’t have that threat.

But those on the other side of the courtroom don’t agree. The Snohomish County Public Defender’s Association told the Everett Herald that holding the most vulnerable accountable without first investing in stability and wellness is counterproductive.

Cornell pointed out that the accountability he is striving for is to get people to take the help. Without the threat of the charge, though, there is less leverage.

He’s talked with councilmembers and the executive about the change, and admits there’s more to be done.

“I’m building my case, and I hope there will be support for what I’m doing — I’m going to continue to plug away and remain optimistic,” he noted.

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