Snohomish Co. prosecutor wants to start punishing drug offenses again

EVERETT, Wash. -- Snohomish and King counties became the first in the country last year to stop prosecuting people for possessing small amounts of illegal drugs. Now, the Snohomish County prosecutor wants to rethink that policy.

In Snohomish County, you won't be prosecuted if you're caught with up to two grams of a controlled substance, like crystal meth, heroin or cocaine. That's twice the amount of drugs that King County allows without being prosecuted.

Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell said the goal was to focus less on punishing low-level drug offenses and focus more on violent crime. But a year into the experiment, Cornell said he believes the policy isn't effective, as KUOW first reported.

If his office were able to pursue criminal charges, Cornell said he believes it would help to hold the offenders accountable -- even if they don't end up in jail.

"We know that many addicts commit other crimes to feed their habit, and that's not something that we should be tolerating in our community," Cornell told Q13. "By engaging people who break the law in a compassionate way,  then we can ultimately save the county money, and make people better."

Cornell said the policy can't change unless the Snohomish County Council approves money for extra staff in the prosecutor's office so they can keep up with drug cases that aren't being prosecuted right now.

In King County, Prosecutor Dan Satterberg disagrees. He was unavailable to speak with Q13 on the issue, but he did tell KUOW that diverting the millions of dollars spent on prosecuting low-level drug offenses to diversion programs is a more effective use of limited funds. He pointed to the county's LEAD program (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) as an alternative that is expanding and helping hundreds of people.

“At the end of almost a yearlong process which involves warrants and jail and many court appearances, we were spending about $3 million a year in the King County court system prosecuting about 800 of these cases,” Satterberg said.