FIRST ON FOX: Julie Gunnigle, the Democratic nominee for Arizona’s Maricopa County attorney, the nation’s third-largest prosecutor’s office, assured participants at a fundraiser this month that she’d tackle the county’s rising drug crises if elected.
However, Gunnigle previously advocated for decriminalizing hard drugs, including heroin, crack and meth, and has complained about prosecutors “overcharging” drug suppliers, including when someone “splits a 20 rock [of crack],” according to previously unreported interviews reviewed by Fox News Digital.
Maricopa County accounts for nearly two-thirds of Arizona’s drug fatalities, according to The Guardian. Gunnigle’s promise to address the epidemic came during an Oct. 1 fundraiser in Scottsdale, where she said it’s a “public health choice not to meet the crises.”
“Because, when we talk about these issues, we know that these are real Arizona issues,” Gunnigle said at the fundraiser. “Look to your left. Look to your right. One out of three of us has experienced addiction inside their life, and one out of five Arizonans has lost somebody during the opioid crisis. Overdose is a choice. It is a public health choice to not meet this crisis as a public health crisis and invest in our people and invest in treatment, and that is the one thing that your Maricopa County attorney can do to make all of us a heck of a lot more safe.”
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But Gunnigle’s vow to tackle increasing drug problems follows her calls to not prosecute hard drug possessions and suppliers of those substances just a few years ago.
During the 2020 election cycle, when Gunnigle first unsuccessfully ran for the attorney’s office, which has discretion over what criminal charges to prosecute, she said her “grand vision” for the office included treating drug offenses as non-criminal when asked how she’d deal with cocaine and heroin in the area.
“Yeah, so we have a heroin epidemic in part because of our overprescription of opioids,” she said during a now-removed August 2019 interview with Gruler Nation posted to YouTube. “In fact, every single day that I’ve been running I have heard from someone who has been a victim or their close family member has been a victim of the opioid epidemic.”
“My grand vision for this office is that we stop treating those sorts of offenses as criminal and life-destroying as they are, and so start treating them as the public health epidemic that they are,” she continued. “So, I think we’ve done a lot lately to criminalize addiction. Not that we don’t necessarily need to prosecute these offenses, but here’s what happens when you prosecute someone, for example, who has fallen into heroin after their doctor will no longer write them a prescription for opioids.”
Months later, Gunnigle criticized prosecutors for “overcharging” drug suppliers, citing an example of someone who “splits a ’20 rock’ [of crack]” and “ends up with a sale charge.”
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“We need to be talking about overcharging that results in something other than simple possession, so those cases that we hear about where somebody splits a ’20 rock’ and all of a sudden – with their friend in order to pay for their crack – and as a result ends up with a sale charge, which of course is a huge enhancement and carries with it a wider realm of penalties,” Gunnigle said during an interview with Info World Arizona in February 2020. “So, we need to be thinking about overcharging.”
During the interview, she added that the “mandatory minimums attached” to criminal drug charges aren’t justified in most circumstances, including in methamphetamine offenses.
Gunnigle, who previously worked as a marijuana lobbyist, has also stated that prosecuting low-level drug offenses is not “worth our time” and criticized the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office for not supporting needle exchanges.
“Under the Republican-controlled County Attorney’s Office, there has been an obvious reluctance to address any aspect of this crisis,” she wrote in a 2019 opinion piece published by Arizona Republic. “Regardless of whether the reforms come in the shape of safety programs, sentence reductions or diversion programs.”
“In the past, we have seen the county attorney oppose even the most rudimentary safety programs, like needle exchanges,” she continued. “These programs provide such resources as clean hypodermic syringes, overdose-reversal drugs, needle disposal and treatment referrals, and help build a rapport with those who are struggling to overcome opioid dependencies.”
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The Arizona Democrat’s positions – particularly regarding low-level drug charges – align with many progressive district attorneys swept into office in recent years, many of whom have received financial backing from liberal billionaire George Soros.
Gunnigle is facing off against Republican acting Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell in this November’s special election. Throughout the campaign, she’s taken hardline left-wing stances and has remained tight-lipped on whether she backs defunding police, calling it a “distraction” and saying during a recent Axios interview that the position doesn’t have discretion over police funding.
Gunnigle, meanwhile, has pledged to target law enforcement during the campaign after previously expressing support for redirecting at least $25 million away from the Phoenix Police Department, Fox News Digital reported. Several of her campaign staffers have also shown support for defunding the police.
Gunnigle’s campaign did not respond to a Fox News Digital request for comment.