Pubdate: Fri, 09 Jan 2015
Source: Bothell Reporter (WA)
Copyright: 2015 Sound Publishing, Inc.
Author: Deanna Isaacs, Bothell Reporter Reporter


Rep. Luis Moscoso of the 1st District and Rep. Jessyn Farrell of the
46th District have announced their support for a proposed House Bill
to remove drug possession as a felony. The bill was filed on Dec. 8 by
Rep. Sherry Appleton.

The bill would remove any felony charges for the personal possession
of illegal substances and reduce the charges to a misdemeanor if
passed by legislature.

The intention is that the state could save a significant amount of
money each year, from the approximate 9,000 non-violent drug felony
arrests to freeing up space within the prison system.

"Defelonizing personal drug possession is a smart, pragmatic
approach to reducing the harms associated with the drug war,"  said
Farrell, who represents Kenmore residents in Olympia. "The move
would reduce incarceration, save the state millions of dollars, and
prevent thousands of individuals from receiving a permanent and costly
felony record."

Other local representatives are looking to cosponsor the bill, but
have yet to officially do so.

"I expect to cosponsor the bill to change possession of controlled
substances a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Mere possession should
not be a felony," said Rep. Gerry Pollet of the 46th Legislative
District. "Most controlled substance arrestees also have mental health
issues - and, most mental health holds for evaluations are for people
with substance abuse problems. We need to provide mental health
treatment coupled with expanding our programs to treat and prevent
substance abuse."

The Reporter did not receive a reply from Moscoso, who represents
Bothell and Kirkland residents in Olympia, for comment prior to press

The bill is supported by many members of law enforcement, including
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), an organization of current
and retired law enforcement professionals, Students for Sensible Drug
Policy, Washington CURE, and the ACLU of Washington.

According to the bill's text crimes such as manufacturing,
possession of large amounts, and dealing drugs will still be illegal
under the proposed law.

The big departure from the current law on the books is possessing
small amounts of a substance prohibited under the Controlled Substance
Act, including heroin, methamphetamines, or cocaine, wouldn't be a
felony; merely a misdemeanor.

Misdemeanors in Washington can include punishment of up to 90 days in
jail, up to a $1,000 fine, or both. On top of the initial misdemeanor
punishments, violation of the Uniform Controlled Substance Act (UCSA)
includes a minimum penalty of no less than 24 hours imprisonment and a
fine of no less than $250.

The defelonization does not equal decriminalization, such as what
marijuana recently went through. What it does mean, though, is
thousands of users won't be clogging the justice system.

"If we can do something right now, today, that avoids unnecessarily
ruining one more otherwise-productive citizen's life, we should do
so without delay,"  Appleton said. "Additionally, the state is
currently facing unprecedented financial pressures...every dime counts
more than ever. Why should we continue to pour millions of dollars
into something that is an acknowledged failure, something that
actually harms our economy in a number of ways, when those scant
resources are needed for recognized priorities?"

This isn't the first time that Washington State has attempted to
defelonize controlled substances. Back in 2014, House Bill 2116 would
have defelonized drug possession but not drug manufacturing, dealing,
or possession of large amounts. That bill was not successfully passed
even though no one testified against it.

The other issue this bill faces is a divided legislature, but there
are merits of this bill that both democrats and republicans support.

"I believe this bill speaks to folks on both sides of the aisle -
conservatives will appreciate the revenues saved by reducing
sentences, while folks on my side of the aisle will hopefully see this
as a good first step towards fixing what the War on Drugs has done to
our country,"  Farrell said. 
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D