In the Legislature: Bipartisan drug bill stresses treatment and accountability, Salomon says

State Sen. Jesse Salomon has introduced a bill that would encourage treatment for those found in possession of controlled substances while holding people charged with illegal drug possession accountable for failing to comply with court-ordered treatment.

“Working for 15 years as a public defense attorney and child welfare prosecutor, I have worked with thousands of people affected by drug addiction,” Salomon said. “I believe we need to encourage and fund treatment, but I understand that people in the throes of addiction can’t always make the best choice for themselves and their families. Therefore, under the bill, if people are convicted of illegal drug possession and refuse treatment, there will be jail time imposed. If they do complete the treatment, the case will be dismissed.”

A Democrat from Shoreline, Saloman represents the 32nd Legislative District, which includes Lynnwood, Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace, Seattle, Shoreline, Woodway, and unincorporated Snohomish County.

According to a news release from Salomon’s office, the bill would provide an opportunity for those arrested for simple possession to receive the help they need and start their path to recovery. The current process in which officers must refer people without allowing any criminal charges would be repealed.

“This is an outside-the-box policy idea that is treatment-forward but with accountability for failure to undergo treatment,” Salomon added. “I have heard from many mayors, community members and police officers that the current referral system is not working. This bill provides a better path.”

If the person completes the substance use disorder treatment prior to their conviction being entered, the court would be required to dismiss the charge. If a conviction is entered, the court could not sentence to jail but would order the person to undergo treatment based on their treatment needs; just like what is done for a DUI case. If the person completes the treatment, the conviction would be overturned and dismissed.

If the person willfully abandons or demonstrates a consistent failure to engage in treatment, however, the court would be required to impose at least 45 days of jail.

Under this legislation, the treatment requirement would be subject to the availability of treatment and the availability of funding for it. If treatment or funding were not available, the court would not be allowed to sanction the person with jail time for noncompliance with treatment. This provision protects indigent individuals from being at an unfair disadvantage due to their financial status.

“We appreciate and support this bipartisan proposal that provides incentives to encourage drug rehabilitation and treatment, while holding those who are in unlawful possession of drugs accountable in a compassionate manner,” said Steven D. Strachan, executive director of the Washington State Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. “We must break the cycle of drug abuse, provide help to individuals in need, and take back our public spaces for our community and our businesses.”

The bill has already received bipartisan support from three Republican members and 12 Democratic members, including the Senate minority leader.

“We all learned during the failed war on drugs that we can’t arrest or jail our way out of the drug epidemic,” said Shoreline Mayor Keith Scully. “But we’re now learning that voluntary programs alone aren’t enough, either. A middle ground that focuses on treatment but has consequences for failing to complete it is the right step forward.”

  1. Would be interesting to hear the pros and cons of the bill. What issues are holding back full support of this bill?

  2. My main concern is that if treatment is not available for any reason(funding, beds,staffing) as so often happens with those accused of serious crimes and referred for mental health evaluation/treatment, nothing will change.

  3. So for poor and homeless people arrested under this law, the “consequences” part goes away if drug treatment is not available to them. Questions:
    1. What counts for drug treatment? Drug treatment ranges from voluntary AA and NA meetings to high priced in house treatment programs.

    2. If in house drug rehab. is needed; who pays for that for the poor and homeless?

    3. Who or what organization supervises and vets these “criminals” as to meeting their obligations of treatment? Are the judges in these cases expected to do that as well as their regular duties? Are there probation and police resources available to monitor these people?

    This sounds to me like more feel good legislation that will accomplish little. It’s time to take the profit out of what causes the problem to begin with and treat the problem as the medical/mental health problem that it really is.

  4. It is definitely rare today to get a large level of bipartisan support. Overall this bill could require an increase in treatment facilities, but also could have the potential to reduce overall costs from what we are spending now on ER visits, property damage, and incarceration costs IF treatment facilities and funding are significantly increased. However, there are some areas that worry me about this bill.

    The key part of this article for me is:

    “Under this legislation, the treatment requirement would be subject to the availability of treatment and the availability of funding for it. If treatment or funding were not available, the court would not be allowed to sanction the person with jail time for noncompliance with treatment.”

    Unfortunately, adequate treatment facilities will not be available now, or probably decades from now. While well intentioned, this law could allow more violent criminals who are also addicts to be released without charge, and cause more damage to everyone involved.

  5. The violent criminals are violent in one way or another to either sell and/or buy the expensive and illegal substances. The violent seller is often a user as well. All drug substances should be treated the same as alcohol and now marijuana – relatively cheap, decriminalized; with sales taxes used to provide for medical treatment and/or drug maintenance. Get the cops and courts out of it all as much as possible. Get the medical and treatment professions into it as much as possible. Otherwise, nothing will change. It’s all about profit, and the profiteers aren’t all illegal actors. Some are very legal and sheltered by current laws that protect obscene profits in pharmaceuticals.

  6. Perfect post, Clinton. The addicted deserve our best efforts. Whether or not we feel good about ourselves isn’t important.

  7. I’m not sure it has much to do with whether or not we feel good about ourselves. Practically and selfishly speaking though, I’d feel better about myself and my lot in life if the guy stealing my Catalytic Converter so he can get money for another hit of illegal dope, was able to go somewhere for treatment of his addiction or a cheap, or free, helping of whatever he needs, for whatever reason, and leaves my mandatory auto parts alone. When he steals; the police aren’t going to catch him or do anything about my loss and nobody is going to ask any questions where he sells the part for a tidy little quick buck. The legitimate auto dealer or repairman is happy because he gets to sell and install another expensive part that normally could last the life of the vehicle. Everyone wins but me. I’m tired of losing. (Full disclosure, I made up the stolen converter, but my neighbor across the street did experience that “fun” event in her life).

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