The Budget and the Drug War

By Josh Feit November 30, 2009

Last week, we gave a PubliCola "Comment of the Day" to a reader who suggested that one way to deal with the budget crisis in Olympia—a $2.6 billion shortfall—would be to stop incarcerating low-level drug offenders.

Intrigued by what sounded like a common-sense idea, we put out calls last week to see how much it would actually save. In the meantime we did an estimate based on the fiscal note from last session's marijuana decrim bill, which would have decreased marijuana arrests. Savings on that: About $1.2 million.

Well, today we've got some solid numbers. State Rep. Roger Goodman (D-45, Kirkland)—a drug reform advocate, and vice chair of the Judiciary Committee and member of the Public Safety Committee (both committees oversee criminal justice legislation)—says the state spends between $110-120 million on incarceration of low-level drug offenders, crack and heroin addicts who get caught up in dealing.

Goodman crunched the numbers for his previous work at the King County Bar Association drug reform task force and as a member of the sentencing guidelines commission.

The  state Department of Corrections budget is $1.8 billion; DOC is checking Rep. Goodman's estimates.

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