Marysville City Council changes drug law so local police can enforce felony possession
The Washington State Supreme Court effectively legalized drug possession in the state after they called a felony possession law unconstitutional, arguing it puts the burden on the individual to prove they didn’t knowingly have a drug or illicit substance on their person or property.
The court’s ruling sought to end the arrest of people who unknowingly possess illicit drugs, and fix the fact that the state’s statute does not distinguish between knowing and unknowing possession. Prior that ruling, Washington was the only state that did not make that distinction.
The downstream effect was that Washington’s existing statute that made simple drug possession of any kind a felony was essentially made null and void. The decision has been questioned, but since the state Legislature hasn’t addressed it yet, some individual cities are looking for ways to address it themselves.
Marysville City Council passed a law Tuesday that overturns at least the concern coming from the Supreme Court ruling.
“It’s a good law that we have now for the interim,” Councilmember Mark James told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “I have a pretty strong feeling that the state — and I’m hopeful, I guess I’m optimistic that way — that the state will correct the error. They’ve already had some legislation submitted by Senators Hobbes and Mullet, … and they just added the word ‘knowingly’ to the knowing possession, rather than just possession.”
“Really what it did, in effect, was take away a very important tool from our police officers,” James added.
He said one of his sons, a police officer, pulled someone over who had drugs on the seat, but he was unable to arrest the person or try to get them help.
“We shouldn’t have to deal with that. We need to give our officers the tools they need,” he said. “And here in Marysville, we lead with compassion, our officers aren’t just out to bust people. They’re taking it as something that’s a tool that they use to help bring people to a place where they can get help.”
What has been the retroactive impact of the change in the law, particularly on individuals who were serving time or impacted by the felony possession law?
“Some of the people that were already in the system, because the law was no longer in effect, some of those folks that were in the process of getting help would potentially not get help because it wasn’t a law that they broke anymore, and so they would stop getting the funding for that,” James said. “… This is just really backwards. It’s got far reaching effect.”
On the front end, from an anecdotal story from the Marysville police chief, James says police found a person in a car smoking meth and the person’s attitude was, “it’s legal now, you can’t do anything.”
“That’s just wrong. We can’t let people think that way,” he said. “We’re not out to bust good people, we’re out to bust people who are not obeying the law.”
“You can’t even do that with alcohol, I mean, come on,” he added. “You can’t walk around downtown with an alcohol bottle, that’s been illegal for years. You can’t just sit in a car and drink alcohol, but now you can with these controlled substances? There’s something wrong with that. So we had to quickly plug the hole there.”
James says he understands other cities can follow suit to fix their own laws, and he hopes they do. However, he’s hopeful there will be a change coming in the state Legislature as well.
“In the meantime, I’m very thankful that municipalities have that power to enact laws and penalties, up to a gross misdemeanor anyway, to handle these kinds of situations,” he said. “We’re very happy that we have that road to take, and we will use it. And I hope other cities do as well.”
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