Pierce County prosecutor sees ‘halfway measure’ for fixing drug possession laws
There has been an effort to fix the decision by the state Supreme Court that effectively legalized drug possession in Washington state. Both Republicans and Democrats are trying to come up with a legislative fix. But one particular bill from Democratic state Sen. Manka Dhingra would legalize drug possession for personal amounts. She argues that’s essentially already happening on the ground, and this meets that reality.
“I, like everybody else, was kind of taken aback and surprised by this Supreme Court decision that was so sweeping in nature. As it currently stands, it not only decriminalizes drug possession going forward, but of course, has this retroactive effect of us needing to vacate convictions going back to 1971,” she said.
“And then all of the circumstances that flow from vacating those convictions, like refunding legal financial obligations that were collected and that kind of thing,” she added. “So it’s a huge undertaking for the prosecutor’s office to comply with the court’s order.”
As Jason suggested, the state Legislature is assuming they can fix this by simply changing the felony drug possession law to say “knowingly,” which may or may not satisfy the state Supreme Court. But state Democrats right now are positioning a fix by legalizing personal possession of drugs, but still making it illegal to possess larger amounts. So, does she support the latter of those two choices?
“I support this bill as sort of the best hope right now. … If the state Legislature does nothing, drugs are effectively legalized. If the state Legislature adds the word ‘knowingly’ to the statute, possession of drugs would be criminalized. There are people in both those camps, right? Some people think it should be criminal, some people think it should not be criminal. And this bill is sort of a halfway measure,” she responded.
For Robnett, the bill is imperfect, but contains many aspects she supports, and offers hope for achieving some sort of consensus between opposing approaches.
“It criminalizes possession, but not for amounts that would be considered personal use amounts,” she said. “It criminalizes possession for people under 21. It provides for a treatment coordinator, or a forensic navigator, or someone to help folks find services. It calls for increased investment into treatment and services. Certainly, I support that kind of effort. It calls for funding for resentencing, that resentencing of cases and vacation of cases that prosecutors’ offices all over the state will be doing.”
“And certainly I support funding,” she continued. “It calls for funding for the refunds of legal financial obligations that will result, and I support that it has a sunset clause so that it will phase out and give the Legislature a chance to work on something better. Maybe there are people who are really interested in treating drugs as a health problem, a public health problem, instead of a criminal justice problem. So it’s imperfect. But it is, I think, the best hope of getting consensus and having some sort of fix, even if it’s temporary.”
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