THE HISTORY OF COMMIT TO CHANGE WA AND INITIATIVE 1922
In 2020, Commit to Change WA, under its previous name Treatment First Washington, filed Initiative 1715 with the Washington Secretary of State. We decided not to try to qualify it to the November 2020 ballot during the initial outbreak of COVID-19 and instead set to work with lawmakers and allies in the 2021 legislative session to advance HB 1499 — a strong piece of legislation that would have ended arrests, jail time, and criminal records for personal drug possession and use.
Then, in February 2021, the Washington State Supreme Court decided State v. Blake and ruled that Washington’s drug possession law was unconstitutional. The Court noted the law “has affected thousands upon thousands of lives, and its impact has hit young men of color especially hard.” The Court’s invocation of racial injustices that have been documented over decades gave us reason to hope the legislature would finally consign this unjust and broken law to the dustbin of history.
Instead, the legislature passed ESB 5476 and re-criminalized possession. ESB 5476 also required development of a new statewide substance use recovery services plan, but it didn’t dedicate any funding for the services to be provided, leaving it to the legislature to decide whether and what to appropriate each budget cycle. ESB 5476 also included a provision that will cause the new criminal provisions to expire on July 1, 2023. This will revert the state back to having an unconstitutional law on the books unless the legislature were to take further action.
So, Washington’s law is unsettled, and its path forward unclear.
What is clear:
The War on Drugs hasn't worked. The majority of Washingtonians have long recognized that treating possession of drugs for personal use as a crime hasn't reduced either drug use or substance use disorder, and it hasn't prevented record-breaking numbers of drug overdose deaths. Instead, treating drug use as a crime makes matters worse. A simple drug possession arrest can land someone in jail and saddle them with a lifelong criminal record that prevents them from accessing services, or finding housing or a job. These unfairly harsh punishments are handed out unevenly depending on where people live, how much money they have, and the color of their skin. The economic harms inflicted by one person’s drug conviction impact entire families and flow from one generation to the next.
Washingtonians are ready for change. A 2021 poll of Washington voters, taken while legislators were considering their response to State v. Blake, confirmed that more than seven in ten (71%) believed the best way to address drug use was through engagement, health care, treatment, and recovery services addressing the root causes of substance use disorder, while fewer than one quarter (23%) wanted to keep drug possession a crime.
For these reasons, Commit to Change WA filed Initiative 1922 on March 11, 2022. We look forward to working with our fellow Washingtonians to qualify and pass I-1922 in the November 2022 general election. I-1922 will:
- Commit $141 million each year from existing cannabis tax revenues to substance use disorder prevention, outreach and engagement, recovery support services, law enforcement training, research, and public education across the state;
- Stop treating drug use as a crime and remove the fear of arrest as a barrier to engagement and recovery; and
- Make it easier for people to clear simple, personal possession convictions from their records.
We’re committed to change. Join us.