In a special legislative session on Tuesday, Washington state legislators achieved what they couldn’t in the standard 105-day legislative period: they implemented a lasting solution to the state Supreme Court’s Blake decision concerning drug laws. This comes just under two months before the expiration of a temporary measure that maintained the illegality of possessing and using drugs. Senate Bill 5536, which proposed making the offense a misdemeanor, did not pass the Legislature before the session ended on April 23, leading Governor Jay Inslee to summon a special session.
The Legislature passed Second Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 5536 by a majority vote of 43-6 in the Senate and 83-13 in the House of Representatives. This bill will classify the intentional possession or public use of illicit drugs, such as cocaine, meth, heroin, and fentanyl, as a modified gross misdemeanor. Penalties include up to six months in jail for the first two offenses and up to a year in subsequent instances.
WR testified on this bill, met with stakeholders, including police, prosecutors, city officials, and chambers of commerce, and encouraged leadership to work together on the bill’s passage.
As per the law, police and prosecutors are urged to reroute cases toward treatment and other services. The legislation sets aside millions of dollars for diversion programs and the supply of short-term accommodation for individuals grappling with addiction.
“This is a win-win,” said Mark Johnson, WR V.P. of Policy & Government Affairs. “Individuals suffering from substance use disorders are often preyed upon by organized retail crime rings who use them to commit retail thefts and other criminal activities. SB 5536 strikes a careful balance between treatment and accountability to break the drug use cycle, leading to safer communities and protecting retail employees and their customers.”