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Drug Sentencing Reform Bill to Be Filed in Washington State

  1. SmokeTwibz

    Legislation to remove felony charges for the personal possession of illegal substances will be prefiled in the House of Representatives next month by Rep. Sherry Appleton (D, 23rd District). The proposal, which will be identical to House Bill 2116 from the 2014 session, would defelonize personal drug possession, reducing the penalty from a felony, to a misdemeanor.

    “Defelonizing personal drug possession is a smart, pragmatic approach to reducing the harms associated with the drug war”, says Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D, 46th District), who will cosponsor the bill. “The move would reduce incarceration, save the state millions of dollars, and prevent thousands of individuals from receiving a permanent and costly felony record.”

    Under current Washington State law, the possession of any amount of any controlled substance – other than cannabis – is a class C felony with a potential 5-year prison sentence. For cannabis, up to 28 grams is legal, yet the possession of over 40 grams remains a felony. Defelonization would reduce these charges to a misdemeanor, which has a maximum sentence of 90 days. Charges involving the manufacturing or distribution of illegal substance, and charges involving minors, would remain unaltered.

    “Those who are caught with drugs in possession need assessment and treatment – not felony records”, says Rep. Jim Moeller (Speaker Pro Tempore, 49th District), who has been a chemical-dependency counselor at Kaiser Permanente for over 27 years.

    According to an official fiscal note for House Bill 2116, defelonizing personal drug possession would affect over 9,000 cases annually. It would free up prison space and would save the state millions of dollars that could be allocated to education, prevention, and treatment programs.

    “It is past time for the Legislature to catch up to the public and to the overwhelming body of scientific evidence that shows that the best way to reduce crime and drug use is to take a public health-based approach, not a criminal approach, to fighting the problem”, says Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (Deputy Majority Whip, 34th District), who has also agreed to cosponsor the proposal.

    In the recent general election, California voters passed a similar measure, Proposition 47, to defelonize certain drug possession cases and other nonviolent crimes, reducing the sentence to a misdemeanor. Proposition 47 passed with nearly a 20-point margin.

    Defelonizing personal drug possession in Washington State is officially supported by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a coalition of thousands of current and former law enforcement officials, as well as Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Washington CURE. Other legislative sponsors include Rep. June Robinson (Assistant Majority Whip, 38th District), Rep. Luis Moscoso (D, 1st District), Rep. Chris Reykdal (D, 22nd District) and Senator Jeannie Kohl-Welles (D, 36th District).

    November 25, 2014
    SensibleWashington.org
    http://sensiblewashington.org/blog/...-drug-possession-filed-next-month-washington/

    Author Bio

    SmokeTwibz
    My name is Jason Jones. I'm from Rochester, MN and I'm 35 years old. I scrap metal and work as grounds keeper at a local trailer park. In the winter, I shovel a bunch of driveways and sidewalks to make some extra money and to stay busy. In my free time, I try to find interesting articles about the war on drugs that I can post on Drugs-Forum, so that the information can reach a wider audience.

Comments

  1. CaptainTripps
    The two big drug issues are marijuana legalization and defelonization of other drugs. Of these two, defelonization is by far the most important. Turning drug users into societal cripples benefits no one expect possibly the drug dealers who are basically insured a lifetime clientele.

    I have not read the details of this bill, but the basic idea, is a no brainier, especially in Washington State. There really is not down side to doing this, even for the anti-drug folks. That is because a misdemeanor is still a crime so you are still sending a message that drug use is clearly wrong. That is one of their big objections to decriminalization. Also in reality it is not that big of a change in Washington State.

    In Washington State, you can have your drug felony removed by a court after a number of years, even dealing charges, if you stay out of trouble. That is a good thing, but the offender does have to live with the record for years and has to go to court to get things cleared up.

    In Washington State you can get your firearms rights back on drug charges after a number of years, but you again have to go to court to do it. During the time you do have this disability you could go to jail for simply being around a gun. These felon in possession of a firearm charges often carry more time than the original drug charge, even dealing charges.

    Voting rights and many other rights are returned right after the jail sentence and probation are completed anyway.

    Even though you could get a five year sentence, the sentencing ranges are much less. Unless you have a substantial record the range for any drug is zero to six months. This time is served in jail, not prison. People who actually go to prison normally have a good number of prior offenses, but that means we are wasting money on sending "sick" people to prisons when we should be investing in treatment. Also drug felonies count as priors for other felonies and can lead to much longer sentences if convicted of another felony. So someone who gets convicted of writing a bad check, instead of getting a slap on the wrist might do years in prison, simply because they have "points" for prior drug possession charges. This is a waste of lives and money.

    It is much cheaper to take someone to misdemeanor court than to superior court. That is before you factor in the fact that someone is much more likly to plead guilty to a misdemeanor than a life changing felony. In fact many drug felonies are reduced to misdemeanors or are deferred in some way like drug court. But not until taking up the time of the superior court.

    The bottom line is this. Reducing drug possession to a misdemeanor is not going to change the amount of likely jail time as that is already minimal, unless the offender has a long record. Most disabilities can get removed after a time anyway, but do require costly court appearances. This will simply make the process much cheaper and more efficient. It will have the benefit of allowing offenders to get back with their lives much sooner.

    While this may be a relatively small adjustment to things in Washington, this could become a model for other states. In some states a felony drug charge will ruin the rest of your life. I hope Washington will choose to be a leader in this area like we are in marijuana reform.
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