Just eight years after legalizing marijuana, officials in Washington have called for decriminalization of all illicit drugs. Collectively, public health professionals, law enforcement veterans, and treatment specialists have presented Initiative 1715: the Treatment and Recovery act. If this piece of legislation is passed, it could mean major change for people addicted to drugs in the Pacific Northwest.
A Broken System
Proponents of the Treatment and Recovery Act claim that the criminal justice system is broken. By jailing individuals who possess drugs, they say punishment is prioritized over recovery.
Possessing even a small amount of narcotics can result in life-altering consequences, including criminal charges and jail time. These incidents can serve as obstacles which block people from receiving loans, being hired for lucrative careers, or finding housing. Barriers to treatment and drug charges also disproportionately impact people of color – according to Treatment First WA, the group behind Initiative 1715, Black defendants in Washington state are 62% more likely to be sentenced to prison than white defendants. In response to these factors, advocates have begun to call for change.
The steering committee of Treatment First WA consists of experts and community leaders who support replacing failed drug laws with a new approach centered around public health.
“Arresting people doesn’t help them recover from substance use disorders,” says Molly Carney, Ph.D., a member of the Treatment First WA steering committee. “Instead, it perpetuates the problem. We see people who are in and out of jail over and over and over again… The researchers found that [our] program significantly reduces recidivism. It’s so effective, the police are supportive, and it costs one tenth of throwing people in jail.”
Supporters of the Treatment and Recovery Act point to successful versions of this policy in European countries like Portugal, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic. These countries treat substance use as a public health concern and have much lower rates of addiction and overdose deaths than the United States.
The Treatment and Recovery Act Explained
According to Treatment First WA, the organization behind Initiative 1715, the Treatment and Recovery Act would…
Expand access to solutions that work. Initiative 1715 would add $125 million to state funding for addiction treatment and recovery programs. This money would be drawn from existing marijuana tax revenue. Health insurance barriers would be removed, since private insurance and Medicaid do not currently cover treatment and recovery services for individuals who are incarcerated.
Use public health-based approaches first, instead of arrest and prosecution. The Treatment and Recovery Act would also reclassify personal drug use offenses from crimes to civil infractions. This means that instead of being jailed or charged for possession of illicit substances, individuals would be directed to public health resources that would help them with their drug use. Criminal penalties for drug manufacturing or sale would remain in place.
Enhance law enforcement training and public health education. Through a statewide education campaign, each law enforcement officer would be provided with evidence-based training about connecting addicted individuals with the appropriate services.
Additionally, this funding will increase the availability of case management services which help individuals to access housing options, job trainings, and insurance coverage for mental health care.
Tacoma Deputy Mayor Supports Treatment and Recovery Act
Tacoma Deputy Mayor Keith Blocker serves on the steering committee of Treatment First WA. He points to personal experiences with addiction and the current system when defending the Treatment and Recovery Act. “My mother struggled with addiction… I’ve been homeless, we’ve lived in shelters, stayed with friends and family. I attended five different elementary schools. I was arrested for possession of marijuana at 19… I just saw people of color getting locked up.”
Blocker believes that the War on Drugs has created a toxic climate that dramatically impacts families, especially families of color. Today, he is glad that more people understand that substance use is a public health issue, not a criminal issue. With the appropriate funding and legislation, Blocker and his colleagues seek to revolutionize the criminal justice system in Washington.
Put Treatment First in Washington State
Since our founding in 1983, Lakeside-Milam has helped over 100,000 alcoholics and addicts to break free of the cycle of addiction. As the largest treatment facility in the Pacific Northwest, we offer a unique, evidence-based path to recovery. We’re proud to provide fully individualized care to each and every person who walks in our doors. Our decades of experience make Lakeside-Milam uniquely equipped to provide the most comprehensive, clinically sophisticated treatment to each patient.
To learn more about our recovery services, contact us today.