ACLU puts $500,000 behind push to codify decriminalization of drug possession statewide

Feb 14, 2022, 11:48 AM
papa johns, drug possession...
Drugs seized during a 2017 police raid. (KIRO 7)
(KIRO 7)

The American Civil Liberties Union is mobilizing significant resources in a push for a Washington ballot initiative that would seek to codify a state Supreme Court decision that decriminalized simple drug possession.

State lawmakers scramble to close drug possession loophole created by court ruling

The court’s 2021 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, though, was that Washington’s existing statute that made simple drug possession of any kind a felony was made null and void, striking down roughly 250,000 previous convictions. Without an updated replacement statute in place, law enforcement agencies across the state announced last year that they would also be ceasing any arrests for simple possession.

That said, there’s still a level of uncertainty as to how the state might proceed on the issue moving forward. Over the last year, lawmakers considered legislative avenues to once again make drug possession a crime. One such proposed bill would have bumped it down to a misdemeanor instead of a felony, while another sought to mirror the statute struck down by the court but added that it would only be a crime if an offender knowingly possessed small quantities of illicit drugs.

Gov. Inslee offers clemency for drug possession convictions invalidated by court ruling

The initiative proposed by the ACLU would effectively formalize the state Supreme Court’s ruling and preempt all local-level laws, while providing funding for drug treatment and recovery, law enforcement training, research, and outreach work.

The ACLU is funneling its efforts through a state-level political action committee registered as “Commit to Change WA.” In total, the PAC has taken in over $521,000 in contributions, $500,000 of which came in the form of a Feb. 10 donation from the ACLU’s Washington chapter.

In order to make it onto the 2022 ballot, the group will need to gather roughly 324,000 signatures by July 8.

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ACLU puts $500,000 behind push to codify decriminalization of drug possession statewide