Washington State lawmakers on Thursday introduced landmark legislation to decriminalize possessing small amounts of all drugs and expand treatment services for people with substance use disorders, part of a growing trend of U.S. states backing away from a crime-control model of drug enforcement and instead treating the issue as a public health matter.
“Substance disorder is among the only health conditions for which a person can be arrested for displaying symptoms,” says the new Washington bill, HB 1499, sponsored by Reps. Lauren Harris (D) and Kirsten Harris-Talley (D). “Treating substance disorder like a crime through arrests and incarceration further disrupts and destabilizes the lives of these individuals.”
The proposal would eliminate criminal penalties for possession of so-called “personal use amounts” of controlled substances and direct the Washington State Health Care Authority (HCA) to craft a plan under which “continual, rapid and widespread access to a comprehensive continuum of care must be provided to all persons with substance use disorder.”
📢 Announcing the Pathways to Recovery Act 📢
Join Treatment First Washington, Care First Washington, and Washington Recovery Alliance for a virtual press conference where we will discuss the details of the Pathways to Recovery Act. pic.twitter.com/0SAlCELkRQ
— Treatment First Washington (@Treatment1stWA) February 3, 2021
Voters next door in Oregon passed a similar policy change in November’s election. That law took effect this week.
Sponsors of the Washington bill, as well as advocates at Treatment First Washington, the group behind the proposal, discussed the proposal at a press conference Thursday.
“Recovery is predicated on hope,” Davis said at the event. “People recover not when we cast them out, but when we bring them in.”
Possession limits under the proposal, dubbed Pathways to Recovery Act, are not yet specified. They would be determined by September 2022 by an HCA workgroup, which the