HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Give State Full Regulatory Control Of Illegal Drugs
Pubdate: Fri, 04 Mar 2005
Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA)
Copyright: 2005 Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Author: Tracy Johnson, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter
Cited: King County Bar Association ( )
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


The state should take the control of drugs away from gangs and street 
dealers -- manufacturing them and distributing them to addicts instead of 
locking up users and letting the black market thrive, according to the King 
County Bar Association.

Proponents of the controversial idea, outlined in a report released 
yesterday, say continuing to deal with drug addiction as a crime instead of 
a medical problem is not only expensive, it simply doesn't work.

They say letting the state regulate now-illegal drugs would curb all kinds 
of problems in society that the so-called war on drugs has failed to 
address, including gang violence, petty crime and drug use by kids.

"It's time for us to take a fresh look at how we are dealing with the use 
and abuse of drugs in our society," said the Rev. Sandy Brown, executive 
director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, which also stands behind 
the proposal.

"Our solutions aren't working. ... They've actually created injustices that 
need to be fixed."

Supporters acknowledge the idea is too new and controversial to get off the 
ground this year, despite a state Senate bill that proposed a first step. 
Bar association President John Cary said the idea, for now, is to get a 
discussion going about a sweeping drug-policy overhaul.

Under the bar association's proposal, drugs -- particularly hard drugs such 
as heroin -- would be produced in state facilities, offering better 
guarantees of purity.

The state could then regulate who gets them in various ways, including 
requiring people to prove they are addicted, limiting drug use to a 
restricted place, or even having users undergo training programs to learn 
more about drug-related health issues, such as blood-borne illness and 
sexually transmitted disease.

The idea of providing drugs to addicts makes little sense to some, but the 
strategy has shown great promise in European countries including 
Switzerland and the Netherlands, said Roger Goodman, director of the bar 
association's drug-policy project.

Goodman said "bringing addicts indoors" has made them less likely to commit 
crimes to support their habits, and regulated doses have allowed many 
people to decrease their drug use or, in some cases, quit.

In Vancouver, B.C., health officials are giving free doses of heroin to a 
small group of addicts with hopes of stemming drug-related crimes and 
eventually treating their addictions.

Different drugs should be regulated in different ways, giving the state 
more control over drugs that have more potential for harm, according to 
Goodman. Cocaine and heroin, for example, might need ultra-strict 
regulation; lawmakers might need to consider different methods to regulate 
marijuana because nearly anyone can grow it, according to the report.

The proposal shuns the politically explosive term of drug "legalization," 
pushing a concept of "strict regulation and control." Supporters hope to 
dispel images of heroin being sold over the counter, or street dealers 
doing the same thing they've always done without worrying about police.

The whole idea has drawn skepticism -- even from those who have been 
supportive of focusing on treating instead of incarcerating drug users and 
low-level dealers.

King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng said the way drug cases are handled 
"continues to be an important issue that deserves further discussion and 

In a written statement yesterday, he said, "While I don't agree with the 
Bar Association's proposal, it's important to note that we have made 
significant changes in our criminal justice system with regard to 
decreasing sentences and treatment options for drug offenders."

Tom Riley, a spokesman for the White House's Office of National Drug 
Control Policy, said he didn't see how "making drugs less difficult for 
addicted users to get stems the problem." He suggested the idea would also 
invite a flood of lawsuits.

"A state or municipality would have to be crazy to take on the legal 
liability that would come with distributing products with such known, 
catastrophic health consequences," Riley said.

Supporters of the plan -- including the Seattle League of Women Voters, the 
Washington State Public Health Association and the Washington State 
Pharmacy Association -- say current drug policy is a tragic failure.

Studies in recent years have shown that drug-crime prison sentences have 
fallen disproportionately on blacks and that more than three-quarters of 
the $40 billion spent on drug abuse in the United States each year goes 
toward punishment, not treatment.

Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, sponsored the now-dead bill that would have 
created a panel of experts to decide how to implement the sweeping policy 
changes. He favors shifting the emphasis to drug-treatment but said many of 
his fellow lawmakers would not support such drastic changes to the state's 
drug policy.

"I think the King County Bar Association is light-years ahead of the 
Legislature in assessing the need for a radical sea change in the policy on 
drugs," Kline said.
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