Pima County Attorney’s Office Decriminalizes Drugs Over COVID-19 Concerns

December 18, 2021

By Corinne Murdock |

Tuesday, the Pima County Attorney’s Office announced it would no longer charge individuals for simple drug possession, paraphernalia, or related personal-use incidents. The policy won’t apply to those arrested for simple possession and a felony offense.

Pima County Attorney Laura Conover said in a memo to law enforcement that low vaccination rates forced her hand in deciding to decline prosecution of more minimal drug charges. 

“A sizable percentage of [society] has expressed disinterest in the vaccine, depriving us of the herd immunity that would have put this virus behind us,” said Conover. “COVID is now spreading inside the jail, putting people there at risk. The health and safety of our community are paramount.”

Conover’s policy mirrored that established by her predecessor, Barbara LaWall, in March 2020. Conover explained she lifted LaWall’s policy after the vaccine became widely available and the county established the nation’s first pre-charge drug court, STEPs. Conover urged law enforcement to deflect offenders to drug treatment, like CODAC. 

One of Conover’s biggest goals has been to stop prosecuting the “poor, sick, and addicted.” Part of that includes getting rid of cash bail. When she assumed office in January, Conover instructed her prosecutors to not ask for cash bail, and limited certain deportations. 

In August, Conover told KOLD that she wanted to abolish cash bail entirely. That’s something she also claimed had a negative impact on the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“You can’t have so many people packed into a space because it’s a huge public health problem for people who are brought into the jail for corrections officers and other professionals,” said Conover.

That same month, the Tucson City Court released without bond a man arrested for shooting at an officer. Previous Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus criticized the decision in a now-deleted Twitter account; Conover wouldn’t comment on the specifics of the case, but said that the man should’ve received bond because he posed a threat to the community.

Earlier this month, Magnus was appointed as the new head of Customs and Border Protection. Officer Chad Kasmer was appointed as Tucson’s new police chief. 

Conover’s progressive perspective on criminal justice reform earned the support of a number of noteworthy left-wing activists, like Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona and John Legend. 

Similar or identical progressive reforms were first championed by Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm. His reforms led to the release of Darrell Brooks, the man behind the Waukesha Christmas parade massacre. According to the MacIver Institute, of over 900 individuals given deferred prosecution agreements under Chisholm’s tenure, 30 percent went on to commit more crimes, fail to appear in court, or fail to follow court-ordered requirements. 

Since assuming office, Conover’s office has experienced massive staff turnover rates.  

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

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