"Today, the Commit to Change WA coalition launched a signature gathering drive to qualify Washington State Initiative Measure No. 1922 for the November general election. ...
I-1922, the Substance Use Disorder Prevention and Recovery Act, would fund expansion of prevention, treatment, and recovery services with cannabis tax revenues, decriminalize personal drug possession, and make it easier for people to clear simple, personal possession convictions from their records. To qualify for the ballot, Commit to Change WA will need to submit 324,516 valid signatures of registered Washington voters to the Secretary of State by July 8.
“Washingtonians have known for a long time that treating drug use as a crime hasn’t worked. We should take this opportunity to expand better, more effective approaches based on proven science, and data about how people recover, rather than continuing the failed policies of the past,” Keith Blocker, Tacoma City Councilmember and former Deputy Mayor, said.
Recent polling confirms that the combined overdose and COVID-19 crises have highlighted for voters how urgent it is that we shift the focus away from criminal penalties and towards public health solutions when it comes to personal drug possession. “It’s time we look at the root causes of why people use drugs – such as depression, anxiety, isolation, and trauma,” said Everett Maroon, Executive Director of a healthcare-focused nonprofit organization and co-chair of the Greater Columbia Accountable Community of Health’s opioid demonstration project. “Instead of treating vulnerable people like criminals, we should be addressing their needs and ensuring they have access to services like housing, healthcare, and mental health treatment, so that they have the tools they need to recover.”
In 2020, Oregon voters passed Measure 110 – which similarly directed state cannabis revenues to greatly expand access to recovery services and remove criminal penalties for simple drug possession – by a 58 to 42 percent margin. According to the Oregon Health Authority, one year after implementation, and with only ten percent of the allocated funds being distributed, over 16,000 people had already accessed services. Additionally, at least 67 community and tribal health organizations throughout the state had received funding to expand services.
In Washington, I-1922 would dedicate new resources to expand access to prevention, treatment, and recovery services, decriminalize personal drug possession, and make it easier for people with prior possession convictions to clear their records. All other offenses, including drug manufacturing and delivery, would remain crimes.
“It’s time to stop destroying the futures of our young people – especially Black and brown kids – over a small mistake,” said Michelle Merriweather, President and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle. “Initiative 1922 will not only provide treatment and recovery services for those who need them most but also reduce racial disparities within the criminal legal system and the lifelong consequences that come with an arrest.”
Under I-1922, police who discovered a person was in possession of drugs would still be allowed to confiscate the drugs, and they would be required to provide the person with information and offer assistance in accessing services. Local health departments would be able to accept confiscated drugs, test them, and publish reports to help monitor and raise awareness of substances entering communities.
Funding would include annual distributions of $141 million to local and tribal organizations across the state for substance use disorder prevention, outreach and engagement, treatment, and recovery support services, as well as research, public health education, and law enforcement training.
Several European countries, such as Portugal, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic have treated drug possession as a public health issue instead of a crime for decades. All three of these countries have much lower rates of substance use disorder and overdose deaths than the U.S.
“This initiative is a major step forward. For far too long, my clients have been trying to overcome addiction while simultaneously having to navigate and deal with the trauma inflicted by a broken, cruel, and ineffective system,” observed Carmen Pacheco-Jones, founder and Executive Director of the Spokane Health and Justice Recovery Alliance, and a formerly incarcerated individual. “It’s time we give them their lives back and restore hope for their families, their communities, and their future.”