WA Seeks to Decriminalize Drugs with New Ballot Measure

Photo by Hal Gatewood from Unsplash.

A coalition called Commit to Change WA is currently collecting signatures in order to get a ballot measure to decriminalize drugs on the ballot in November. Specifically, Initiative 1922 would still allow law enforcement to confiscate any illicit drugs found on a person rather than arresting or fining the individual possessing them. Initiative 1922 would also direct $141 million of funding gathered from cannabis taxes towards the research, treatment, and prevention of substance use. The ballot measure, if passed, would still make selling and delivering illicit drugs a crime. It would aim to address substance use with treatment, rather than criminalization, or addiction, which is a medical problem. The proposed ballot measure needs to gather 324,516 signatures in order to make it onto the ballot during this year’s general election. If passed in November, this would, in effect, end the War on Drugs in Washington state. 

It is also worth noting that Initiative 1922 is similar in several ways to Oregon’s Ballot Measure 110, which was passed during the 2020 election and went into effect on February 1, 2021. Originally based on the decriminalization of drug possession in Portugal, Measure 110 made drug possession, which was a Class A misdemeanor into a Class E violation with the sentence being an option of a $100 fine or to complete a health assessment after calling a new hotline for people seeking help with substance use problems. However, a year into the ballot measure being in effect, the hotline was used only 92 times out of around 2,000 citations for drug possession that were issued during that year. But at the same time, around 16,000 used the substance use treatment services that Measure 110 established, according to the Oregon Health Authority. A majority of those who accessed the services used harm reduction services such as needle exchanges and overdose medications, but a smaller amount got housing assistance and peer support, while less than one percent entered treatment. Measure 110 has been criticized for not doing enough, but treatment centers and programs in Oregon have been able to help more people with the $31 million in grants Measure 110 had allocated. Overall, it is still too early to see how Oregon’s decriminalization of drugs will work in the long run, but there have been some successes. Consequently, Washington might follow in Oregon’s footsteps and decriminalize drug possession.