Thanks to Blog Reload, and an article in The Stranger.
The King County Bar Association (KCBA), Seattle Washington, has approved a sweeping, comprehensive, and (frankly) amazing Drug Policy Resolution that will be released tomorrow.
They are calling upon the State of Washington to take over the regulation and dispensation of drugs currently under federal prohibition, and have prepared states’ rights constitutional arguments in preparation for the inevitable show-down with the feds.
This comprehensive work includes a full detailed history of drug prohibition, an analysis of models in other countries and a section called “States’ Rights: Toward a Federalist Drug Policy.” (Which includes a fascinating argument that Washington, by acting as a market participant in drugs by controlling their sale could exempt themselves from interstate commerce regulation.)
Just from the brief reading I’ve done of the entire collection of documents, this may be the most important drug policy reform document in recent years.
I am so impressed with the opening vision statement, that I’m going to re-print it in its entirety here:
State Regulation and Control of Psychoactive Substances: The Vision
The King County Bar Association supports a public health approach to the chronic
societal problem of substance abuse, stressing the need to shift resources into research,
education, prevention and treatment as an alternative to the continued use of criminal
sanctions, to achieve the objectives of:
- reducing crime and public disorder;
- improving public health;
- protecting children better; and
- using scarce public resources more wisely.
By any measure, current drug control policies have failed to achieve those objectives.
As a result of years of intensive study, the King County Bar Association recommends
the establishment of a state- level system of regulatory control over those psychoactive
substances that are currently produced and distributed exclusively in illegal markets.
The main purposes of this state-level regulatory system are:
- to render the illegal markets for psychoactive substances unprofitable,
thereby eliminating the incentives for criminal enterprises to engage in the
violent, illegal drug trade;
- to reduce access by young persons to psychoactive drugs and to provide
them better education and prevention services; and
- to open new gateways to treatment, finding the hard-to-reach population of
addicted persons who consume the bulk volume of drugs, drying up black
market demand for those drugs and thereby reducing public disorder,
economic crimes related to addiction, transmission of disease, accidental
death, quantities of drugs consumed, initiation of use by young persons and
drug addiction itself, as well as criminal justice, public health and social
The King County Bar Association and its coalition partners are not currently proposing
specific legislation and do not presume to set forth every detail of a state-level regulatory
system for controlling psychoactive substances. Rather, the coalition is calling on the
Washington State Legislature to authorize a special consultative body of experts in
pharmacology, medicine, public health, education, law and law enforcement, as well
as public officials and civic leaders, to provide specific recommendations for
legislative action to establish such a state-level system of regulatory control.
The politically-charged term “legalization” is insufficient to describe how the state
might control those psychoactive substances that are now exclusively produced and
distributed through illegal markets. The concept of strict regulation and control of
psychoactive drugs is a more accurate and useful description of this proposal and must be
carefully distinguished from the idea of commercialization of such drugs.
The King County Bar Association’s vision for a system of effective drug control
contemplates differing degrees of control for each substance, depending on the known
potential for harm. It is likely that only registered addicts would have access to the more
addictive drugs such as heroin, and only through state-licensed or state-controlled medical
treatment facilities as part of addiction treatment regimes aimed at reducing the quantity of
use and eventually the elimination of use — an approach now proven effective in Europe.
The vast bulk of “hard” drugs are consumed by a relatively small number of addicted
users. Certifying and registering as many of those users as possible and bringing them into
state-controlled medical treatment facilities would, therefore, dry up the black market in
each local area. Other potential users who might want to experiment with such substances
would have to obtain them from the “gray” market, which currently exists for other
pharmaceuticals and is easier to control (although a growing problem in the U.S.)
Cannabis might be regulated in the same manner as distilled spirits, with controlled
availability from licensed producers to adults through facilities operated by the state and a
prohibition on advertising. Separate, state-regulated medical cooperatives would provide
cannabis to patients at low cost. As an alternative, a state-supervised system of home
production (not dissimilar to home brewing) and non-commercial exchanges might satisfy
the demand for cannabis, thereby reducing the potential harm from excessive availability
and making state-controlled outlets unnecessary.
Young persons would continue to be prohibited from possessing or using psychoactive
substances because their relatively limited ability to make informed judgments renders
them especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of drug use and preventing or delaying
such use would allow for the development of social competence and resilience to risk.
State sanctions for drug use by young people would not be criminal, however, but
rehabilitative and restorative and based in the community and the family.
Pricing structures for state-controlled substances could easily undercut black market
prices and in many cases the substances would be provided free of charge or at very low
cost (along a sliding scale) to registered addicts at the state-controlled medical treatment
facilities. Any revenue to the state would support the administration of the regulatory
framework and would maximize funding for prevention, treatment, research and education,
while maintaining price levels low enough to render any illegal markets unprofitable but
high enough to deter consumption, especially by young persons.
Most psychoactive substances currently produced and distributed exclusively in illegal
markets would become less available than they are today and certainly less available than
alcohol, especially to young persons. Cannabis might become more available to adults, but
compelling research from many countries indicates that cannabis availability brings about
a “substitution effect,” which dampens the use of alcohol and tobacco, as well as of other,
more dangerous drugs.
Where pure and safe forms of “hard” drugs would be available to addicts through
prescribed maintenance regimes aimed at reducing harm, drug use and drug addiction, the
medical nature of this approach would likely discourage many new users of such drugs
when they are perceived as medicine for sick people more than as a way to have fun.
The prescription drug maintenance programs in Europe and Canada should serve as a
guide, where hard-core drug addicts are brought indoors into medically- supervised
facilities and stabilized with controlled doses that are free of charge. These programs have
brought about very promising outcomes:
- reductions in overdose deaths;
- reductions in the transmission of disease;
- reductions in economic crimes related to addiction;
- reductions in levels of public disorder;
- reductions in the quantity of drugs used;
- elimination of drug habits altogether for 20% of participants;
- stabilization of the health of participants;
- increased employment rates of participants;
- law enforcement support; and
- a changed culture where addictive drugs like heroin lose their cachet and are
considered more like medication for sick people, resulting in declining rates
of first-time use of such drugs.
Without such programs in the United States, this hard-to-reach addict population now
continues to stimulate the illegal market, to contribute to public disorder, to spread disease
and to suffer overdoses without any reduction in drug use and certainly no abstinence.
These are just some of the devastating effects of the current approach of drug prohibition
and criminalization, which is draining state and local coffers through ever-rising criminal
The King County Bar Association proposal would not only pay for itself, but would
provide the state with additional funds for effective education about the dangers of
psychoactive drugs and for medical treatment for those harmed by drug use. Recent
research in Washington State has shown how generous investments in prevention and
treatment yield significant savings from avoided costs in medical care, social welfare and
criminal justice. The current proposal would allow for enhanced prevention and treatment
to be financed from massive savings that would arise from reduced use of the criminal
This is truly amazing stuff. The research is solid. The conclusions are correct. The proposal is sensible and workable, and if ever allowed to actually happen would manifestly prove the lie that has been our national drug policy. If this gets any kind of legs, the federal government will go nuclear.