Initiative to decriminalize most drugs will not appear on November ballot

The campaign behind a controversial initiative that would decriminalize personal amounts of almost all illegal drugs has ended its signature-gathering push to get the initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Initiative 1922 would have decriminalized possession of controlled substances like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, psychotropic drugs like mushrooms, painkillers without a prescription, and fentanyl, to name a few.  It would have preempted local laws that would criminalize drug possession.

It would have also directed $141 million every year from the state’s cannabis tax toward drug treatment and recovery services, law enforcement training and public education.

According to the initiative’s co-author, it came down to money and not enough of it to pay signature-gatherers to collect the 324,516 signatures required by the state’s July 8 deadline in order to appear on the November ballot.

"Simply put, the cost of qualifying Initiative 1922 to the ballot almost doubled since we started signature-gathering near the end of April until early June, and we simply couldn't close the funding gap," said Alison Holcomb, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington. 

Holcomb said they had roughly 200,000 signatures going into the Pride and Fourth of July weekends. 

"If we would have sent people out, we would have gotten enough signatures. But we didn’t have the money to do it," Holcomb said. 

Washington courts clearing drug convictions, refunding fines

People convicted under Washington’s longtime felony drug possession law are starting to get their records cleared, and their court-imposed fines refunded.

The Washington State Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) said the campaign has raised $3.1 million and has already spent $2.7 million. They have a debt of $670,000, according to the PDC. 

A poll done on behalf of the campaign found 53% of the people surveyed in April supported the initiative, while 39% opposed it. A closer look at the numbers showed 26% who said they would definitely support it while another 26% said they would definitely not.  9% were undecided.

Holcomb said she is undeterred.

"People are tired of continuing the failed war on drugs," she said. "Voters get it, they want solutions that work".

When the State Supreme Court overturned 50 years’ worth of drug possession laws earlier this year, it left an opening for supporters of decriminalizing personal amounts of drugs. For a while, no one could be charged with drug possession-- knowingly or unknowingly.

State lawmakers failed to pass a bill similar to I-1922 that would have codified the State Supreme Court ruling into law. Instead, lawmakers made drug possession a gross misdemeanor with offenders getting a warning the first and second times they are caught. That bill, signed by the Governor, expires July 1, 2023.   

Holcomb and supporters of I-1922 will be pressing state lawmakers at the next legislative session starting in January to pass something similar.

"A very large majority of Washingtonians are ready to try something different," she says.