Sentencing Reform Passes in Washington State, Governor Will Sign Bill 3/15/02

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The Washington state legislature this week passed a bill reducing many drug sentences and ordering that any savings from reduced incarceration be used to fund drug treatment, including drug courts. Democratic Gov. Gary Locke, who supported the bill, has 20 days to sign it into law.

The bill adjusts Washington's sentencing grid for heroin and cocaine possession or small-scale sales downward, so that sentences that now average 24 months will average 18 months. The bill also eliminates the double- and triple-scoring of previous drug offenses in determining sentence lengths under sentencing guidelines -- with the notable exception of the drug menace du jour, methamphetamine. And the bill provides for a new drug sentencing grid to go into effect for drug offenses committed after July 1, 2004. After that date, nonviolent drug offenders will be sent to drug court in lieu of prison. Finally, the bill sets up a dedicated account to fund treatment for drug offenders and drug courts.

The bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in both chambers. In the House, which okayed its version last month, the bill passed 72-25. In the Senate, which voted this week, the vote was 36-11. A pro forma vote by the House to reconcile minor differences with the Senate version occurred Thursday night.

"The bill represents a new state policy direction in dealing with the public health and public safety issues represented by drug offenders," said the Washington Association of Alcoholism and Addiction Plans in a release lauding the bill's passage. "Rather than locking people up for having the disease of addition, we will begin treating them in drug courts with community-based treatment."

"This is the right thing to do," said Rep. Ruth Kagi (D-Lake Forest Park), the bill's primary sponsor. "It gives low-level drug offenders a chance to take responsibility for their addiction and become productive citizens."

Visit for a discussion of the impressive political coalition behind the bill. A summary of the bill, HB 2338, is available online at:

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Issue #228, 3/15/02 Editorial: What Is It About Opium? | DRCNet Launching John W. Perry Scholarship Fund for Students Losing Aid Because of Drug Convictions at NYC Event on March 26 | Alert: Tell Congress to Repeal the HEA Drug Provision in Full | DOJ Study Takes Ominous Look at Drug and Drug Policy Web Sites | Britain Continues Brisk March to Drug Reform | Drug War Drives Federal Criminal Court Cases, No Let-Up Last Year | Sentencing Reform Passes in Washington State, Governor Will Sign Bill | Danish Politicians Seek Cannabis Crackdown in Christiania | Canadian Doctors Call for Marijuana Decriminalization, Treating Addiction as Medical Problem | US Drug Warriors Lose Again at UN | Government-Commissioned Study of White House Anti-Drug Ad Campaign Says $1.50 Billion Program Fails to Reduce Teen Use | Resources: New York Magazine, UN on Afghani Opium, US on Colombian Coca | Alerts: HEA, Bolivia, DEA Hemp Ban, SuperBowl Ad, Ecstasy Legislation, Mandatory Minimums, Medical Marijuana, Virginia | The Reformer's Calendar

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