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As Trump Proposes Harsher Drug Policy, WA Moves in Opposite Direction

President Donald Trump and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee are taking different approaches on drug policy. (Chip Somodevilla/GettyImages)
President Donald Trump and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee are taking different approaches on drug policy. (Chip Somodevilla/GettyImages)
February 27, 2018

SEATTLE – The Trump administration is proposing harsher penalties for drug offenses, even as states such as Washington look for other solutions.

According to a report from the news outlet Axios, President Donald Trump has praised countries like the Philippines and Singapore, where drug traffickers are executed, and even suggested drug dealers in the United States receive the death penalty.

The U.S. Supreme Court has barred execution for non-homicide offenses.

Kara Gotsch, director of strategic initiatives for the criminal justice reform group The Sentencing Project, says harsher penalties will not reduce drug use. She says to prevent crime, policies must get at the root causes of it.

"And that often involves poverty, structural racism, and that requires investment in communities - educational, but also creating job opportunities and making sure people have access to their basic needs, which includes health care and housing," she explains. "The whole nine yards."

The leader of the White House anti-drug efforts, Kellyanne Conway, says even small doses of fentanyl, a leading killer in the current opioid crisis, are lethal and that is why the president has compared dealers to murderers. Washington is one of 14 states where opioid deaths went down last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Evergreen State has taken a different approach to drugs. It legalized recreational marijuana use in 2012, and Seattle is one of the first cities in the country to approve a safe-injection site.

The state also could become out of step with Trump's proposals and join other states in abolishing the death penalty this legislative session. Senate Bill 6052 is currently in the state House and could see a vote as early as this week.

Gotsch says the use of the death penalty nationwide, and public confidence in its effectiveness, have decreased in recent years.

"Even in states like Texas and other southern states that still maintain the death penalty, their use of it has also declined significantly, and I think part of that is that it's not proven to be effective," she says. "It is not a deterrent to crime. It's quite arbitrary who ends up being the recipient of a death sentence."

Gov. Jay Inslee imposed a moratorium on executions in 2014.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA