PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Washington announced plans on Tuesday for a $200 million investment in communities disproportionately impacted by historic drug possession laws.
The Community Reinvestment Plan aims to address racial, economic and social disparities in the state for people disproportionately impacted by state and federal drug laws, or the “war on drugs,” the Washington State Department of Commerce said.
According to the state, research for the investment plan shows laws and punishments for drug offenses “unjustly targeted” Black, Latino and Indigenous communities in Washington.
Officials said these communities saw mass incarceration and legal financial obligations that exacerbated financial disparities, along with barriers to housing, employment, education and health care.
The plan includes 17 grant programs with $136 million for economic development, $30 million for civil and criminal legal assistance, $8 million for community-based violence intervention and prevention, and the remaining $12 million for local advisory programs.
The funds will be distributed over the next two years, with about 64% of grants going to Clark, King, Pierce, Snohomish, Spokane and Yakima counties.
“Governor Inslee and the Legislature have established Washington state as a leader in beginning to take steps, centered in community, to mitigate the devastating impacts of historic drug policies and mass incarceration. This plan offers a blueprint for how we can begin to reinvest together in the affected communities and families,” said Commerce Director Mike Fong.
Fong noted these investments are a start towards addressing disparities from drug possession, saying further investments are needed later on to broaden their reach.
Officials pointed to historic policies disproportionately impacting communities such as President Richard Nixon declaring a war on drugs in 1971 and proposing mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession and distribution.
The state also noted impacts from the Regan administration’s $1.76 billion investment to enforce drug laws, and the Clinton administration’s Violence Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.
Over the last 40 years, the number of people convicted of drug-related crimes rose by more than 500%, officials said.
The state’s commerce department says it worked with Washington’s Office of Equity, the Harriet Tubman Foundation for Safe Passage, and community members to develop the plan.
“As the saying goes, ‘the people closest to the issues are the ones best situated to produce the solutions.’ This project is a critical demonstration of our state’s commitment to do things with people instead of to them and to meaningfully address past harm,” said Megan Matthews, Washington Office of Equity Director.
“I believe Washington has embraced one of the Office of Equity’s values, Ubuntu — a South African (Nguni Bantu) term meaning humanity, often translated as ‘I am because we are.’ Washington is leading differently. In a time where others are divided, we have come together to invest in communities that have historically been stripped of their resources, opportunity, and power. Together we will advance equity and justice for all in our state,” Matthews added.
“These resources are not just investments; they’re seeds of hope that will nourish families across the state, fostering growth and creating a brighter future for generations to come,” said Dr. Jesse Miller, Harriet Tubman Foundation for Safe Passage Founder and CEO.