The public appears ready to declare a truce in the war on drugs

Increasingly, the public supports treatment and rehabilitation of drug users and possessors rather than having them prosecuted and imprisoned.

In the past, the public's prevalent attitude about someone who was arrested for possession of "hard" drugs could be summarized by the following three words: Lock them up. After many years of engaging in the so-called War on Drugs, the Pew Research Center observes that the general public may be "ready for a truce." A recent survey by Pew found that

67 percent of Americans now say that the government should focus more time and attention on providing treatment and rehabilitation for those who use drugs, such as heroin and cocaine. Only 26 percent of those surveyed believe that the government should continue to seek harsh penalties for those unfortunate individuals who use drugs.

The State of Washington has been a leader in the effort to change the old belief that the best way of dealing with drug possessors was to prosecute them on drug charges and send them off to prison. Washington was the second state to pass a Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Law. The law provides immunity from prosecution on drug possession charges to overdose victims and bystanders who seek aid in an overdose event. This sensible legislation has been lauded by the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The Office of Drug Control Policy recognizes that opponents of Good Samaritan laws assert that immunity unnecessarily provides a free "get-out-of-jail card" and interferes with the work of prosecutors and police. Those who support such laws believe that it is important to provide immunity from prosecution to those calling 911 in an overdose situation in order to save lives. The National Conference of State Legislatures, relying on a study undertaken by the University of Washington, found no evidence of negative consequences from Washington's Good Samaritan law. Further, there was no evidence that prosecutors were being impeded as a result of the law. Indeed, the Washington statute specifically provides that the immunity provision, which covers only possession offenses, is not the basis for suppressing evidence for other criminal charges.

Unintended consequences

A new focus on treatment and rehabilitation of drug abusers-rather than arrest and imprisonment-may be timely. Last year, a US News and World Report article noted that heroin use is increasing in Washington. Washington was one of the first states to toughen its laws on opiate prescription drug abuse. The law decreased the number of people abusing prescription meds. Unfortunately, abusers started using heroin, thereby dramatically increasing demand for that drug. According to the U.S. News report, heroin is becoming a problem outside of urban areas and is quickly moving from cities such as Seattle into the suburbs and smaller towns across Washington.

In an effort to combat the drug problem locally, the Thurston County Narcotics Task Force was set up to impact and reduce middle to upper level drug trafficking organizations. The stated goal of the Thurston County Task Force is to disrupt manufacturing, distribution and transportation of narcotics by proactive investigations, "aggressive prosecutions" and what are termed to be "reasonable asset forfeitures."

Legal assistance

Attitudes are slowly changing about drug possession by persons who have a substance abuse problem. However, one who is charged with a drug crime must take those charges seriously. Being charged with a drug crime is apt to be a life-changing experience. A Washington attorney experienced in handling drug charges can often resolve those charges in negotiations with the prosecution. Depending on the circumstances, charges may be dismissed or plea bargains struck to reduce the severity of the charges.

Keywords: drug charges, War on Drugs, possession, Good Samaritan