The King County Bar Association has led a high-level partnership of lawyers, doctors, pharmacists and other professionals in Washington to find more effective ways to reduce the harm and costs of drug abuse, and of the “War on Drugs” itself. What began as a transitory study of current drug laws has evolved into a comprehensive, long-term effort to bring about meaningful reform of drug policy on many levels. The principal objectives of this effort are: reductions in crime and public disorder; improvement of the public health; better protection of children; and wiser use of scarce public resources.
Through its Drug Policy Project, the King County Bar Association has examined a public health approach to drug abuse, promoting:
- increases in the scope and effectiveness of drug addiction treatment programs, including expanded access to treatment, improved case management systems and the broadening of treatment opportunities to include mental health care, work-readiness and vocational training, literacy training, housing and the fostering of peer and family supports;
- reforms and improvements to drug abuse prevention and drug education programs that ensure the implementation of evidence-based methods, stressing youth development in general and the maintenance of healthy behaviors and healthy relationships rather than a fear-based approach to drug use that too often relies on misinformation or partial information;
- a shift from the principal reliance on criminal sanctions as a response to drug use towards greater availability of effective addiction treatment, drug education and research.
On January 19, 2005 the King County Bar Association adopted a Resolution on State Regulation and Control of Psychoactive Substances requesting the Washington State Legislature to establish a special consultative body composed of public officials, civic leaders and experts to develop recommendations for legislation to create regulatory systems for the control of psychoactive substances. Underlying the Resolution was the release of a comprehensive new report.
The Treatment Policy and Funding Task Force of the KCBA Drug Policy Project also published its report to the KCBA Board of Trustees entitled Drug-Related Crime and Disorder: Practical Policy Options, with numerous recommendations for more effective treatment intervention and minimization of criminal justice exposure for drug addicted individuals.
Project’s Origin and Purpose
In late 2000, in response to an editorial by KCBA President Fred Noland lamenting the failure of the “War on Drugs,” an outpouring of interest among lawyers, judges, public officials, scholars and concerned citizens led to a comprehensive effort to examine and reform current drug policy. Policy-oriented task forces conducted extensive research and prepared reports with recommendations for reform, resulting in the release of a major report in 2001, Is It Time to End the War on Drugs?, which found that current drug policy is fundamentally flawed and is associated with numerous negative societal consequences, including:
- the failure to reduce problematic drug use, particularly among children;
- dramatic increases in crime related to prohibited drugs, including economic crimes related to addiction and the fostering of efficient and violent criminal enterprises that have occupied the unregulated and immensely profitable commercial market made possible by drug prohibition;
- skyrocketing public costs arising from both increased drug abuse and increased crime;
- erosion of public health from the spread of disease, from the concealment and inadequate treatment of addiction and from undue restrictions on proper medical treatment of pain;
- the abridgement of civil rights through summary forfeitures of property, invasions of privacy and violations of due process;
- disproportionately adverse effects of drug law enforcement on the poor and persons of color;
- and the clogging of the courts and compromises in the effective administration of justice, as well as a loss of respect for the law.
Based on these findings, the King County Bar Association concluded that, rather than criminally punish persons for drug use per se, any state sanction or remedy should be aimed at reducing the harm directly caused to others by persons using drugs, and that unmitigated criminal sanctions should continue to be imposed upon persons who commit non-drug criminal offenses, but such offenders should have the opportunity to receive drug treatment if their crimes are related to drug addiction
Drug Sentencing Reform Legislation
After the release of its 2001 report, the King County Bar Association sat at the negotiating table with criminal justice stakeholders, including prosecutors, judges, the defense bar, law enforcement, the state corrections department and the governor’s office, to draft a drug law reform bill. The KCBA Drug Policy Project hosted an all-day drug policy forum at that time, featuring key lawmakers who exerted significant leadership on drug policy reform, and the program received important media coverage and helped to propel the legislative initiative forward. The drug law reform measure passed the legislature in 2002, putting in place a completely new drug sentencing system that gives sentencing courts vastly increased discretion to reduce incarceration and focuses much more on treatment alternatives for drug law violators. The bill was been hailed as a significant shift in state-level drug policy and has led to similar reforms in other states.
Professional and Civic Coalition for Drug Policy Reform
The King County Bar Association has strengthened links with other organizations in the professional and civic communities. Nowhere else in the nation has such a coalition of groups been activated on drug policy reform issues to this extent. Among our partners:
- King County Bar Association
- Church Council of Greater Seattle
- King County Medical Society
- League of Women Voters of Washington
- Loren Miller Bar Association
- Municipal League of King County
- National Alliance on Mental Illness of Washington
- Seattle League of Women Voters
- Washington Academy of Family Physicians
- Washington Osteopathic Medical Association
- Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility
- Washington Society of Addiction Medicine
- Washington State Bar Association
- Washington State Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics
- Washington State Medical Association
- Washington State Pharmacy Association
- Washington State Psychiatric Association
- Washington State Psychological Association
- Washington State Public Health Association
The Washington State Bar and Medical Associations, with encouragement and guidance from the KCBA, adopted their own resolutions in 2001 stating official positions on drug policy.
For more information on projects like this at other bar associations, or to start a similar project or committee at your bar association, please visit the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers' website at www.vcl.org.