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Proposed legislation aims to decriminalize drug use in Idaho

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BOISE — A new bill could decriminalize drug use in Idaho, but the creator of the bill says it won’t pass.

Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, introduced a bill that would amend Idaho’s drug law to decriminalize the majority of drug use and possession by adding the phrase ‘with intent to deliver.’ However, Burgoyne says he knows it doesn’t have the votes to pass. He hopes the bill will start a conversation.

“I did want the bill to get out there as a way of getting a conversation started in Idaho that I think we have to have. It is not a legalization bill. It is a bill that recognizes we have a broken system in Idaho,” Burgoyne told EastIdahoNews.com.

He said it’s not only Idaho’s criminal justice system that he believes is broken.

“It’s also our substance abuse treatment and mental health systems. Behavioral health systems in Idaho are really very inadequate,” Burgoyne said.

The Idaho Fraternal Order of Police, Idaho Chiefs of Police Association, Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association and the Idaho Sheriffs’ Association released a joint news release expressing their concern about the bill.

“Seattle, Portland, Salt Lake and California are struggling with the decriminalization of drug possession and the devastating consequences it has had on their communities and public safety. This bill goes far beyond what even those cities and states have done and legalizes drug possession. The consequences of such legislation would be catastrophic to every Idaho community,” the news release says.

Burgoyne acknowledged that his bill could look like a drug legalization bill, but he said that is not what he is trying to do.

“I want to have a discussion about how can we deal with the addict. How can we deal with the substance abuser in a way that will actually help them turn their lives around rather than seek to punish them,” he said.

However, law enforcement organizations argue they are already focused on providing treatment for those dealing with drug addiction.

“We encourage all citizens and their duly elected representatives to come to any courtroom in Idaho to observe the significant efforts that everyone, including prosecutors, public defenders, judges, law enforcement, probation and parole officers devote to a drug offender’s success while keeping the offender and the community safe,” according to the joint news release.

Burgoyne said he understands that there are those in law enforcement and in the courts working to help addicts.

“But it’s not everywhere. It’s not for everyone. And we need to look at how to make these things have a broader reach and be more effective,” he said.

The bill is currently up for debate in the House Judiciary & Rules Committee. Though Burgoyne says there are not enough votes to pass his bill, he said he has spoken to legislators who say they want to make sure the legislature has the conversation Burgoyne wants.

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