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Bellingham Herald
Bellingham WA
14 December 2001

Jail fails for drug users, study finds

The Associated Press

SEATTLE -- Putting drug users in prison is the most costly and least effective way to fight drug abuse, according to a study supported by a coalition of doctors, lawyers and pharmacists.

"We need to shift from a punitive legal model to a public health model," said Fred Noland, a Seattle lawyer who prompted the policy review. The King County Bar Association conducted the one-year study and won support for it from the Washington State Bar Association, the Washington State Medical Association, the King County Medical Society and the Washington State Pharmacy Association.

In a Nov. 5 letter to the state bar, King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng expressed reservations about the study, which was publicly released Wednesday.

"The report ultimately concludes that we should eliminate criminal sanctions for drug users, abusers, manufacturers and traffickers, but it offers no other alternative," Maleng wrote.

Noland emphasized that the report does not call for decriminalizing drugs.

It says while simple possession should not result in jail, it still shouldn't be legal. Although it does not say what kind of sanctions should be imposed, it mentions court-required treatment, fines or contempt citations. Jail, which costs $25,000 a year per inmate, hasn't worked, the report says.

A state bar association resolution calls for retaining criminal sanctions for conduct that puts others at risk, such as violent behavior, driving under the influence or providing mind-altering drugs to minors.

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