New weapons for war on drugs
Seattle Times staff reporter
Since it was founded four years ago, the Drug Policy Project at the King County Bar Association has targeted the decades-old war on drugs, pushing for treatment instead of punishment and proposing radically different policies for addicts and abusers.
The project — a coalition of lawyers, doctors and social-welfare groups — has researched the effects of the war on drugs in King County and helped drive new drug policies.
In 2002, the project helped fuel the passage of a bill reducing sentences for some drug offenders and using the saved money to help fund drug courts. And most recently the project helped divert millions of dollars in the 2005 two-year budget to bolster voluntary treatment facilities run by the state Department of Social and Health Services outside the criminal-justice system.
As a result, Seattle has since gained a national reputation for rethinking drug policy and the war on drugs, and other cities are listening.
The project's director, Roger Goodman, has been traveling the country to help create similar efforts and influence policy changes at other bar associations.
"It's really the approach that's been taken in Seattle that's most intriguing, and the ability to really pull together different segments of the community," said Jim Gocker, a lawyer with the Monroe County Bar Association in Rochester, N.Y.
"I think King County has taken a very large step at reassessing how to address drug issues and drug policy," Gocker said.
Anna Saxman, of the Vermont Bar Association, said she was introduced to Seattle's project when the American Bar Association held its winter 2003 meeting in Seattle. During that meeting Goodman presented the Seattle project's research and recommendations.
After Goodman visited Vermont, Saxman held a conference with a coalition of lawyers and doctors to begin a dialogue about the war on drugs. She is now director of the newly founded Drug Policy Project in Vermont and is excited about the idea of changing what she says are ineffective and failed policies that focus only on costly arrests and incarceration.
"We are looking for ways to treat addicts safely in the community, and we're looking at interesting ways for what works in prevention," Saxman said. "After spending billions and billions of dollars on the war on drugs, it appears that drugs are stronger, they're cheaper to get, and they're more available to kids."
Goodman said he is either replicating or adapting the approach in Seattle to other places.
And while he is not prescribing any solutions in those areas, he said the main point is to foster dialogue about the war on drugs.
Malcolm Mackenzie, chair of the Savannah, Ga., Bar Association's drugs and law committee, said even that dialogue can be difficult.
"It's a delicate area, because politically speaking, it's anathema for politicians to do anything for people who are perceived to be in violation with the law. No one wants to be plastered as a soft-on-crime politician in Georgia," Mackenzie said.
After Goodman visited Savannah, the group formed the drugs and law committee to begin discussing the war on drugs and its local effects.
"Unless there's some thoughtful discussion and examination of the status quo and the possibilities of some other approach to these social issues ... we kind of harness ourselves with doing the same thing over and over again," Mackenzie said.
Goodman said he thinks much of the project's success has hinged on the credibility of the bar associations.
"The fact that the bar association is speaking about it, and has created a coalition with all these different groups, that holds a lot of weight," Goodman said.
In the coming weeks, Goodman will visit Washington, D.C., Alabama, Miami and Portland. In November, he is scheduled to meet with the House of Lords in London.
Ari Bloomekatz: 206-464-2540 or email@example.com
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