Ever since the Washington State Supreme Court struck down the state's felony drug possession law, cops and Republicans and their besties in the media have relayed dubious anecdotes and issued alarmist warnings in an attempt to scare the hell out of everybody. They aim to build public pressure on state lawmakers to put the law back on the books so that police officers, prosecutors, and judges can continue to jail Black people and Indigenous people at higher rates than white people for the same crime.
But a new poll from FM3 Research suggests that a majority of Washingtonians aren't buying it.
The pollster surveyed 600 likely November 2021 voters across Washington from March 27 to April 1, and they found that most voters want the Legislature to stop fighting this front in the War on Drugs.
To briefly rundown the polling memo:
• We're not doing it right. Most voters described “problem drug use and drug dependency” as a “very serious problem," and 73% of Washington voters called the "government’s approach to addressing problematic drug use in the state of Washington" a failure.
• Only 15% of Washingtonians read Slog closely. JK. Sort of. According to the poll, less than half of those surveyed (42%) said they had heard "something" about the Supreme Court essentially decriminalizing personal-use amounts of drugs statewide as a result of their ruling in State v. Blake, and only 15% had heard "a great deal" about it.
• More generally, 71% support a treatment-first approach to drug policy, while 23% support tossing people in jail.
• After receiving some background info on the Supreme Court decision, 59% think lawmakers should address the issue with "more effective addiction and treatment alternatives," while 35% think lawmakers should simply patch the law with some intent language and return to the status quo, which is the "solution" proposed by "Democratic" state Senators Mark Mullet and Steve Hobbs. (Their bill would sunset in the summer of 2023, so they're essentially proposing to kick the can down the road another year.)
• 68% of voters support the policies contained in the bill Democratic state Sen. Manka Dhingra's proposed as a response to Blake, while 27% oppose them.
• Everybody likes it, even Republicans! The policy framework listed above includes the following levels of support from these subgroups:
- 82% of Democrats, 57% of independents, and 59% of Republicans;
- 70% of white voters, and 61% of voters of color;
- 70% of voters under age 55, and 67% of those age 55 and older;
- 68% of men and 68% of women;
- 70% of parents of children under 18, and 70% of non-parents;
- 69% in King County outside Seattle, 67% in Snohomish County, 73% in Pierce County, 66% in Eastern
Washington, and 74% in Clark County; and
- 67% of those aware of the Blake decision, and 69% of those who are not.
A few things to keep in mind: The poll, which was commissioned by Treatment First Washington, an ACLU-backed group that had planned to run an initiative to decriminalize personal-use amounts of drugs until COVID-19 hit, had a margin of error at +/-4.0%. I've asked the spokesperson for Treatment First Washington the poll's crosstabs, but I haven't seen them. The poll analysis over at 538 gives FM3 Research a C/D grade.
But these state numbers more or less reflect Pacific Northwest sensibilities on the subject, and, as the opioid epidemic continues to ravage every corner of America, maybe even American sensibilities as a whole. A 2019 poll from the arch conservative CATO Institute found that 55% of Americans favor drug decriminalization. And Oregon Measure 110, which reduced the penalty for possession of personal-use amounts of drugs to a civil infraction, passed this by nearly 17 points—58.5% to 41.54%.
Though lawmakers have proposed several responses to the Blake decision in the last couple weeks, right now Democratic lawmakers have yet to reach a consensus on whether they want to return to the state's old and racist ways of dealing with drug users and then slow-walk funding on treatment and recovery services (as embodied by the Mullet/Hobbs bill), or whether they want to get with the times (and the science) and join the decrim movement (as embodied, to some degree, by Dhingra's bill). Dhingra's bill received a hearing in the Senate Ways and Means committee this morning, but it's gotta pass out of that committee and then off the Senate floor by the end of this week.
At a press conference last week, Democratic House Speaker Laurie Jinkins admitted the Legislature will not craft a full response to the Blake decision this year, especially regarding the amount of funding needed to expand treatment and recovery programs statewide. But this poll—though it be but one fucking poll—suggests that most voters have a clear idea about what progress looks like on this issue, and blanket re-criminalization is not it.