Oregon moves to decriminalize drugs, Washington legislature may follow suit

Next year legislators in Olympia may consider a plan that lifts criminal charges for people possessing small amounts of street drugs.

Tuesday’s General Election proved historic in Oregon when voters approved a measure decriminalizing the possession of drugs. Tarra Simmons was elected to the Washington State Legislature and her seat may be the first held by a convicted felon.

“I really dug into my faith,” said Simmons.

She said drug abuse lead to her incarceration. Despite her criminal history, Simmons pursued a law degree and this week was elected to serve in the Washington State Legislature and plans to use her position to help others struggling with addiction.

“The stigma of a criminal record really hurts individuals when they try to make positive change in their lives,” she said.

Next year lawmakers will consider the Treatment and Recovery Act. It decriminalizes small and personal amounts of drugs, and boosts funding for treatment.

“It’s quite a departure from business as usual,” said Malika Lamont from Vocal-WA.

However, Lamont says the proposal falls short from protecting vulnerable communities because it includes fines that if offenders cannot pay could lead to their arrest. Among other criticisms, Lamont added that funding for treatment does not meet the need across the state.

“It’s a start, it’s not the end,” Lamont said. “It’s not going to fix everything, but it’s a beginning and it’s a strong beginning.”

Oregon’s decriminalization measure faced opposition from lawmakers to doctors.

The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs says it would review the proposal should it reach lawmakers in Olympia, adding it is seeking to double funding for current treatment and alternative programs.

For Simmons, the scourge of drugs is not just personal. Ending the suffering has become her mission as a lawmaker.

“We cannot jail this way out of a brain disorder,” she said.