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Washington State Drug Law Reform (02-15-01)

Summary:  Washington State is considering changes in its drug laws that will reduce the penalties for drug crimes and place more emphasis on treatment and prevention programs.  These changes are based upon the observation that past drug laws have placed too much emphasis on enforcement and not enough emphasis on prevention and treatment.  The result has been that drugs are more available, more potent and less expensive than they've ever been before.  This proposed legislation is based upon the belief that a more balanced approach will be more effective.


Reducing demand is the tack the Washington state legislature is taking this year: four bills have been introduced that would reduce the penalties for drug crimes and place more emphasis on treatment and prevention programs, the Seattle Times reported Feb. 15.

Although he spent the past two decades chasing drug dealers as a narcotics investigator for the Seattle, Wash., area, state Rep. Christopher Hurst says that the drug war has been misdirected. "The failure is this: We did not deal with demand reduction," said Hurst, who is in his second term in the state House of Representatives and serves as commander in the Black Diamond Police Department. "Until we reduce demand, we will never make progress."

Supporters for reform are include Republicans, Democrats, public defenders, prosecutors, judges, and jailers. "People are saying, 'Enough is enough. This war on drugs is nuts,' " Hurst said. "Even in the most conservative areas, people are saying we've gone down the wrong road."

As with other states, the drug problem persists in Washington, even though the number of people sent to prison for drug crimes has significantly increased.

According to a study conducted last month, Washington spends $1.5 billion a year dealing with problems resulting from addiction.

Ken Stark, director of the state Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse, said there are three reasons why prison strategies of the past 20 years are failing. "Drugs are more available than they've ever been before; they're more potent than they've ever been before. And they're cheaper than they've ever been before," Stark said. "We need a more balanced approach."


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