House Republicans introduce package of bills to fix state drug possession ruling

Mar 24, 2021, 12:59 PM
olympia, frivolous lawsuits...
The state Capitol building in Olympia. (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

House Republicans have introduced a package of bills to address the state Supreme Court ruling that declared the felony drug possession law unconstitutional. The assumption coming from the court was that it is unconstitutional to assume that someone who is caught with substance on their person or their property knowingly possesses the drug.

‘Worst of both worlds’: No easy fix for WA Supreme Court decision legalizing drug possession

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.

Washington Representative Gina Mosbrucker of Goldendale explained part of the new package of bills to fix the state ruling on the Jason Rantz Show.

“This is the House Republican response to the State v. Blake,” she said. “… The first [bill] looks at due process, and it addresses ‘knowingly,’ which is exactly what you said. It is unlawful for a person to possess a controlled substance without a valid prescription. So we simply say that it is unlawful for any person to ‘knowingly’ possess a controlled substance without a valid prescription.”

That’s bill 1560, carried by Rep. Jesse Young, and is one bill of a package of five.

While there’s still a chance these bills don’t overturn the ruling, they do provide a fix, and Mosbrucker says it’s at least a path forward.

“The second section of our fix is House Bill 1562, and it removes the state preemption related to possession offenses, so it allows local jurisdictions to enact criminal ordinances related to the possession of controlled substance, and also counterfeit substances as well,” she explained.

“We’re saying that in Seattle, if this is something that you want, we’re saying it’s not something we want in Eastern Washington and our small communities, and often, actually, throughout suburban areas, throughout the entire state,” she added.

Grant County, Mosbrucker said, enacted an ordinance to do that very thing.

As Jason noted for clarification, this is saying that if Seattle wanted to keep the unconstitutional claim on the books, it would be allowed.

“Under State v. Blake, it’s already allowed, and that’s the underlying rule,” Mosbrucker replied. “… I’m saying that we can choose at local jurisdictions, the local level governments can say we do not want it to be OK for someone to possess heroin, for example, and not know that it was in their pocket.”

“That you would still be incarcerated for that, you would still be charged and hopefully in an incarceration facility, you would get help through substance abuse programs,” she continued.

Marysville City Council changes drug law so local police can enforce felony possession

One problem with this legislation as Mosbrucker sees it is that when someone is incarcerated for substance abuse or possession, they get a bed, three meals a day, and receive help.

“If you have someone who is suffering from severe addiction of a controlled substance and we just unlock the jail doors, they’re going out to, often, homelessness,” she said. “They’re not necessarily getting the food and the nutrition, or the health care, or even the education, in many cases, that they need to heal.”

“The infrastructure is not there in the state of Washington for them to go into programs,” she added. “And then, of course, there’s the overriding question of do they want help?”

The point of this fix, she explained, is that Grant County, as an example, could say they want to keep the original ruling as is and not follow the decision in State v. Blake.

“These are just fixes if we can’t keep it as is, as is the current standing today, then these are fixes to make it better and to try to keep pushing forward,” she said. “And hopefully we can get it through this legislative session, even that we’re past the cut off, and in the minority. There are a lot of barriers, but we’re going to fight anyway to make sure that the fallout of this doesn’t hit.”

“What we’re doing is we’re trying to … get back to the fact that the fallout of State v. Blake is horrible and it’s going to affect our communities,” she added. “And it’s going to risk public safety as well as, you know, this isn’t a victimless crime. And we would argue that it is a crime and that often people get help by being arrested.”

Another challenge of the state’s ruling is the unfunded mandates may go back to counties.

“These cases go back to 1971 that we’re going to have to undo and resentence, petition to the prosecutor. This is millions of dollars if you’re going back to 1971,” she said. “So where do we get that money and how do we do that? And does that fall in local government? Which, of course, we’re always fighting for making sure there’s not unfunded mandates.”

“We’ve got a couple more in a package and we’re going to push it forward and the Senate’s coming out with a couple of fixes,” she said. “So we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that we address this and be ready for the fallout.”

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3 – 6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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House Republicans introduce package of bills to fix state drug possession ruling