Bill aims to shift drug policy from arrest to treatment

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BOISE — Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, introduced a bill Tuesday to decriminalize the possession of illegal drugs and allow commitment in treatment facilities for substance abuse disorders. The legislation is intended to shift the state’s drug approach from arrest and incarceration to treatment and rehabilitation.

“Our mandatory minimum provisions say that if you are possessing a certain amount of a drug, you are deemed to be a drug trafficker and you will do a certain amount of time in prison,” Burgoyne said. The bill would effectively decriminalize drug possession by requiring possession with the intent to deliver in order to qualify as drug trafficking.

Burgoyne elaborated that he views most people with drug addictions as victims rather than criminals. “People who become addicted to pain medication as the result of prescriptions…Are they really a criminal when they lapse into using opioids illegally because they became addicted? Are they really a criminal because if they can’t get an opioid prescription legally, they turn to an illegal opioid like heroin?”

The senator was quick to clarify that the bill would not allow driving under the influence or being under the influence in public, nor would it make life easier for those who sell illegal drugs.

“If you’re possessing for your own use that’s one thing,” Burgoyne said, “but if you’re possessing with the intent to deliver you are a drug trafficker, and you will receive the mandatory minimum.”

State law currently has a process for committing the mentally ill to protective custody or a treatment facility if they present a danger to themselves or others. The proposed bill would alter “mentally ill person” to “person with a mental disorder or a substance-related disorder,” allowing those under the influence of drugs to be placed in such treatment facilities as well.

“I think that we need to recognize that we can’t arrest our way out of this problem. We’re clogging the criminal justice system with people who are not going to be rehabilitated through the criminal justice system,” Burgoyne said.

“Not everyone who is using an illegal drug needs to be civilly committed to an institution. Some people maybe need to be civilly committed to outpatient rehabilitation. Some people may not need to be civilly committed, but this needs to be an option.”

The bill comes amid a larger push for criminal justice reform this year at the statehouse. Previous attempts to reform the mandatory minimum laws have passed the House but failed to get hearings in the Senate.

Burgoyne said he does not expect the decriminalization bill to be passed in its current state. “The bill that I’ve introduced has many issues in it that need to be thoroughly discussed and carefully considered. What it ends up looking like after all of that, it could be quite different.”

Logan Finney is an intern with the University of Idaho McClure Center for Public Policy Research and the UI JAMM News Service.

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