Legislature To Consider Decriminalizing Substances

On Tuesday, Senator Grant Burgoyne/(D-Boise) introduced Drug Decriminalization legislation as a personal bill in the Senate. The bill would 1) decriminalize the unlawful use of controlled substances in private places and 2) repeal the current prohibition on civil commitments for drug abuse. 

Sen. Burgoyne introduced the legislation with the purpose of starting a conversation about shifting the focus from prosecution and punishment to treatment of drug abuse in Idaho.

“I have heard from many of my constituents that there are too many people in Idaho prisons,” Sen. Burgoyne explained. “Idaho has a drug addiction problem and we cannot arrest our way out of it. To be clear, I am not asking that we legalize drug use, but we should consider decriminalization. We need to start treating drug addiction with robust rehabilitation. I am hopeful that my legislation will start the conversation with lawmakers, law enforcement, and others about how we treat Idahoans, especially young Idahoans, who are suffering from drug addiction.”

Senator Burgoyne’s bill repeals the current prohibition on civil commitments for drug abuse to remove one of the current barriers to effective treatment. The bill does not excuse crimes that might be associated, arise from, or co-occur with illegal drug use, and it retains prohibitions in Idaho law on 1) using and being under the influence in a public place, 2) drug trafficking (while adding an intent to deliver requirement), and 3) driving under the influence. 

Sen. Burgoyne plans to bring another criminal justice bill in the form of a constitutional amendment. The proposed amendment would allow law enforcement officers to make warrantless misdemeanor arrests based on probable cause when the offense in question is not committed in an officer’s presence. 

“Last June, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled in State v. Clarke that such arrests are unconstitutional unless the crime was witnessed by law enforcement.” Sen. Burgoyne said. “The legislature needs to have an open and thorough discussion about the significant changes that Clarke will cause. As long as I can remember, law enforcement was able to make warrantless misdemeanor arrests based on probable cause even if the officer did not witness the alleged crime.”

In the State v. Clarke ruling, Judge Horton wrote “We are mindful of the significance of this conclusion. ‘Domestic violence is a serious crime that causes substantial damage to victims and children, as well as to the community. Idaho Code section 19-603(6) permits peace officers to use their arrest powers to intervene in domestic violence situations, even though they have no personally observed the commission of a crime, and to thereby defuse potentially violent circumstances.” 

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