State Legislature battles over criminalizing drug possession

Apr 12, 2023, 3:28 PM


A homeless man, 24, holds a piece of aluminum foil he used to smoke fentanyl in Seattle. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Fixes to the state Supreme Court’s Blake Decision have led to passionate debate in Olympia, as the discourse over penalties for drug possession is far from over.

A very early morning vote Wednesday in the state’s House of Representatives made possession a simple misdemeanor with a maximum of 90 days in jail. The amendment passed on a deeply contested 54-41 vote.

Tax relief, drug possession among topics debated with WA Legislature back in session

“If there are any pathways for them to fall through the cracks Madam Speaker, I fear that this policy is going to be another broken promise,” House Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber (D-7) said on the Legislature floor. “There’s going to be cracks in this policy where they’re going to be lost.”

Maycumber opposed the changes made to the Senate bill, believing simple possession of drugs should be a gross misdemeanor — resulting in one year of jail time.

However, House lawmakers instead voted to make it a simple misdemeanor, with the amendment also changing the requirements for referring people to treatment.

“I’m quite apprehensive at the prospect of criminalizing the most marginalized people in our society,” said Representative Roger Goodman (D-45) in defense of the legislative changes.

The measure is currently back in the Senate for further debate.

In 2021, Washington state’s Supreme Court struck down Washington’s law, through the State v. Blake case, that made simple drug possession a felony. The court ruled the law unconstitutional because it did not require proof to charge people with drugs in their possession, including charges against people who were unknowingly possessing illegal substances.

Federal Way mayor in full support of bills re-criminalizing drug possession

In response, the Legislature established a simple misdemeanor penalty for knowing possession that same year. It is set to expire July 1.

Many people have come out in opposition to the State v. Blake decision, including the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC), which released a statement earlier this year about what the Legislature should prioritize in 2023.

“The effects of the Washington Supreme Court Blake decision and legislative changes to our drug laws tolerated personal drug possession and made harmful and dangerous drugs essentially legal to possess across the state,” their statement read. “The legislative response to the Blake decision has made it far easier for those who sell drugs to prey on victims and has brought chaos to public spaces. Drug-related crime, such as retail theft, has increased greatly.”

Working in tandem with drug possession legislation was the House’s decision to pass an amended version of the state Senate’s police pursuit bill — allowing pursuits if an officer has “reasonable suspicion” rather than “probable cause.”

Police pursuit bill passes House despite some reluctance

MyNorthwest News

Image: A Bellingham Police Department vehicle is seen on a city street in 2015....

Julia Dallas

Bellingham sixth grader allegedly punched by man in racist attack

A Bellingham 6th-grader was allegedly attacked by a man who was spewing racist comments during a school field trip on Wednesday.

15 minutes ago

Photo: Starting this fall, students at Seattle's Hamilton International Middle School will have to ...

Julia Dallas

Seattle school to say goodbye to cell phones in the fall

Starting this fall, students at Seattle's Hamilton International Middle School will have to lock up their cell phones during school hours.

3 hours ago

Image: A dose of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine is displayed at the Neighborcare Health cli...

Sam Campbell and Steve Coogan

Measles case reported at West Seattle clinic; know the symptoms

A child, now confirmed to have measles, went to the Franciscan Health Urgent Care clinic in West Seattle, officials said in a release Friday.

4 hours ago

Image: The Supreme Court building can be seen from a distance on Thursday, June 13, 2024, in Washin...

Associated Press

Supreme Court strikes down Trump-era ban on bump stocks, gun accessory

The Supreme Court has struck down a ban on bump stocks, an accessory that allows semi-automatic weapons to fire rapidly like machine guns.

10 hours ago

Image: A multi-vehicle collision including a semitruck on Interstate 5 in Fife slowed down traffic ...

Steve Coogan

1 killed in multi-vehicle crash on I-5 south in Fife; morning traffic affected

The Washington State Patrol is on the scene of a deadly multi-vehicle crash that occurred on I-5 south in Pierce County early Friday.

11 hours ago


Julia Dallas

90 Lynnwood residents — mostly seniors — on verge of homelessness

Seattle Morning News' Dave Ross speaks with the Lynnwood City Council president on protecting residents who live in manufactured home communities and are seeing massive rent increases on the land their homes sit on. 

1 day ago

State Legislature battles over criminalizing drug possession