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‘Everybody wants the same thing’: WA Rep explains deeper goal behind bill to decriminalize drugs

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A bill to decriminalize personal use amounts of drugs in Washington has proven controversial, but its sponsor, state Rep. Lauren Davis, believes that people on both sides of the debate are all looking to achieve the same outcomes.

Lawmakers aim to have Washington decriminalize drug possession

HB 1499 would decriminalize personal amounts of most drugs and use the criminal justice savings and additional investments to ramp up treatment options, to not only help those dealing with substance use disorder, but ensure there’s a system in place to make sure they can access crucial treatment options.

It differs from proposals akin to what was implemented in King County, though, in that it would first seek to set up “off-ramps from the criminal legal system, and on-ramps to treatment of recovery at every single point along … the entire criminal legal system,” Rep. Davis told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson.

Once that infrastructure is in place, only then would the decriminalization aspect of the bill kick in. The idea is to have that ready-made system to direct drug users toward services that would help them fight their addiction, rather than simply deciding not to prosecute them for possession.

“The bill is really about building a comprehensive, proactive plan to reach people where they are now and to engage people in services, and keep them in services and support them all the way,” Davis detailed.

But as Dori asks, why not simply offer those services and still keep legal penalties in place as a tool to motivate people to accept treatment as an alternative to jail time?

The answer to that can be seen in the science behind what commonly fuels drug use, which posits that the threat of criminal penalties often doesn’t figure into the choices that lead people down the path of addiction.

“Everything we know about what drives addiction is people use to numb pain from their past and pain from their present, and part of the diagnostic criteria for substance use disorder is continued use despite negative consequences,” she said. “So if that’s in the diagnosis, then it is illogical to suggest that additional negative consequences just for a possession charge [will reduce drug use].”

Is Washington state ready to decriminalize all drug possession?

“All that does is compound their feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, and erect barriers that make recovery seem even further from their grasp,” she added.

As Davis points out, people on either side of the debate swirling around her proposal all want the same thing: To help break people out of vicious cycles of addiction, and to reduce drug use in Washington.

The difference of opinion revolves around how the state achieves that goal, but she believes that it’s still valuable to have everyone working toward that shared mission.

“I would argue that really aren’t two sides — I think everybody wants the same thing.”

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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