New drug law would provide alternate route for those with addictions

Jan 24, 2023, 12:33 PM
Sen. Jesse Salomon speaking in favor of new drug bill (Photo from Washington Democrats)
(Photo from Washington Democrats)

Sen. Jesse Salomon (D-Shoreline) has introduced a new bill that would change how the state handles those caught with drugs and avoid court-ordered treatment.

“This is an outside-the-box policy idea that is treatment-forward but with accountability for failure to undergo treatment,” Salomon continued. “I have heard from many mayors, community members, and police officers that the current referral system is not working. This bill provides a better path.”

The new legislation, SB 5467, would encourage treatment for those found in possession of controlled substances but would still work to hold people charged with illegal drug possession accountable.

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“As a public defense attorney and child welfare prosecutor, I have worked with thousands of people affected by drug addiction. I believe we need to encourage and fund treatment, but I understand that people in the throes of addiction can’t always make the best choice for themselves and their families,” Salomon said. “Therefore, under the bill, if people are convicted of illegal drug possession and refuse treatment, there will be jail time imposed. If they do complete the treatment, the case will be dismissed.”

This bill would provide an opportunity for those arrested for simple possession to receive assistance. The current process requiring officers to refer people without allowing any criminal charges would be repealed.

If the person completes the substance use disorder treatment prior to their conviction being entered, the court would be required to dismiss the charge. If a conviction is entered, the court could not sentence the person to jail but would order said person to undergo treatment based on their treatment needs, just like what is done for a DUI case. If the person completes the treatment, the conviction would be overturned and dismissed.

If the person willfully abandons or demonstrates a consistent failure to engage in the treatment, however, the court would be required to impose at least 45 days of jail.

Under this legislation, the treatment requirement would be subject to the availability of treatment and funding. If treatment or funding were not available, the court would not be allowed to sentence the person to jail time for noncompliance with treatment. This provision protects indigent individuals from being at an unfair disadvantage due to their financial status.

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“We appreciate and support this bipartisan proposal that provides incentives to encourage drug rehabilitation and treatment while holding those who are in unlawful possession of drugs accountable in a compassionate manner,” said Steven D. Strachan, executive director of the Washington State Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. “We must break the cycle of drug abuse, provide help to individuals in need, and take back our public spaces for our community and our businesses.”

The bill has already received bipartisan support from three Republican members and 12 Democratic members, including the Senate minority leader.

“We all learned during the failed war on drugs that we can’t arrest or jail our way out of the drug epidemic. But we’re now learning that voluntary programs alone aren’t enough, either. A middle ground that focuses on treatment but has consequences for failing to complete it is the right step forward,” said Shoreline Mayor Keith Scully.

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New drug law would provide alternate route for those with addictions