WHY COMMIT TO CHANGE WA?
In 2020, Commit to Change WA, under its previous name Treatment First Washington, filed I-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 sunset 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.
Criminalization ruins lives. The majority of Washingtonians have long recognized that treating personal possession and use of drugs as crime further harms members of our community. A simple drug possession arrest can land someone in jail and saddle them with a lifelong criminal record that prevents them from getting a job, a place to live, or a student loan. These unfairly harsh punishments are handed out unevenly depending on where people live, how much money they have, and the color of their skin. To make matters worse, 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 recent poll of Washington voters confirmed that more than seven in ten (71%) believe the best way to address drug use is through engagement, health care, treatment, and recovery services addressing the root causes of substance use disorder while fewer than one quarter (23%) would like to keep drug possession a crime.
We look forward to working with our fellow Washingtonians to advance a November 2022 ballot initiative that commits to the following:
- Stop treating drug use as a crime and remove the fear of arrest as a barrier to engagement and recovery
- Commits robust, and long-term funding to a plan informed by the lived experiences of people harmed by the War on Drugs
- Emphasizes public health approaches that focus on the social determinants of health and meet the needs of rural and urban communities across the state
We’re committed to change. Join us.