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Washington Lawmakers Hope To Avoid Drug Decriminalization

Washington state lawmakers are considering a new drug policy in a special session that begins Tuesday, a day after reaching a compromise that Democratic and Republican leaders say strikes a balance between public order and compassion for those with substance abuse issues. The bipartisan agreement would avoid making the state the second to decriminalize the possession of controlled substances, AP News reports. Under a tentative deal, intentional possession or public use of small amounts of illegal drugs would be a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail for the first two offenses and up to a year after that. Police and prosecutors would be encouraged to divert cases for treatment or other services. The measure provides millions of additional dollars for diversion programs and to provide short-term housing for people with substance use disorders.

A temporary, 2-year-old law that makes intentional drug possession illegal is due to expire July 1. Unless the compromise passes, drug possession will become decriminalized in the state. Rep. Roger Goodman, a Democrat, called it “a fair compromise that addresses urgent concerns about public disorder but follows evidence-based practices in helping people in need.” Both Goodman and Republican Rep. Peter Abbarno said much work will remain even if the compromise is approved, because even with additional funding, the state doesn’t yet have the treatment or diversion program capacity it needs to deal with the addiction crisis. “The state of Washington is a decade behind in having treatment providers and having adequate bed space and treatment facilities,” Abbarno said. As this year’s regular legislative session ended last month, a measure billed as a compromise was voted down in the Democratic-controlled House 55-43.


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