WA introduces ballot measure to decriminalize drug possession

May 6, 2022, 6:02 AM | Updated: 10:20 am

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Drug-reform advocates, doctors, and politicians have initiated a ballot measure, Initiative 1922, to remove the penalties for possessing drugs of any kind in the state of Washington, including cocaine, heroin, and hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Led by a coalition group called Commit to Change WA, the proposed ballot has a budget attached to it with the initiative dedicating $141 million in state funding each year to substance use treatment and prevention.

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The funds allotted to the measure would come from cannabis taxes the state is already receiving.

“Oregon passed an initiative a couple years ago, so they’re in the process of doing it,” Matt Driscoll of the Tacoma News Tribune said on the Gee and Ursula Show on KIRO Newsradio. “One of the things they’ve found is, in fact, arrests have gone down. They have and there has not been a substantial increase in drug use. That’s the other fear that people often have. It’s an understandable fear.”

Oregon voted yes on Measure 110, which started Feb. 1, 2021, to remove criminal penalties for possession of drugs and expand access to health services.

“Because of this measure, there are thousands of people in Oregon that will never have to experience the devastating life-long barriers of having a drug arrest on their record, which disproportionately and unjustly affected Black and Indigenous people due to targeted policing,” said Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, in a prepared statement. “Because of this measure, there is more than $300 million in funding that did not exist before being funneled into community organizations to provide adequate and culturally competent care that people desperately need.”

A year after the landmark legislation passed in Oregon, more than 16,000 Oregon residents accessed services through the new grant program, but less than 1% were reported to have entered treatment, according to updated state data.

Most of those who accessed the grant-funded services last year, nearly 60%, engaged with harm reduction programs such as syringe exchanges and naloxone distribution.

“From our perspective, 60% of the people accessing harm reduction services means that we have more people alive today because of these funds, and because of the services that we’re invested in,” Tera Hurst, executive director of the Health Justice Recovery Alliance, said in a news release.

Driscoll cites similar legislation in Europe and South America has not led to an automatic increase in drug use.

“Now, anything that you might catch a charge for related to possession is still a crime,” Driscoll said. “You can’t sell it, you can’t distribute it. If you’re involved with a robbery, you’re still charged with the robbery. It’s just those simple possession charges.”

After the interview with Driscoll ended, Gee Scott spoke candidly about the initiative to his audience.

“Probably the most frustrating thing is because so many people making these decisions do not understand what it’s like to have a drug problem or to be an addict,” Gee said. “And thinking this idea that if you make the punishment harder, then they won’t do drugs. I don’t think in our lifetime we’re going to get to the bottom of this.”

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Sponsors of the initiative have until July 8 to collect almost 325,000 valid signatures of registered Washington voters to qualify for a spot on the statewide ballot in November.

Listen to Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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WA introduces ballot measure to decriminalize drug possession