Washington State lawmakers will have a second chance to come up with a new, statewide approach to drug possession. Governor Jay Inslee announced a 30-day special session of the Legislature that will start on May 16, allowing lawmakers to replace a stopgap measure that expires on July 1. Lawmakers have yet to reach a deal, but state Senate and House leaders will continue working towards a resolution that can gain majority support.
During the special session, lawmakers will address the same policy questions left unanswered during the regular session that ended last month. This includes whether to maintain a criminal penalty for drug possession and, if so, at what level, with what alternatives to prosecution and incarceration. The political questions remain the same, including how to get progressive and centrist Democrats to back the same proposal or bring together a coalition between centrist Democrats and Republicans.
If the Legislature does not adopt a new measure before July 1, each city and county will have to handle drug possession in its own way, resulting in “a confusing patchwork of policies, treatment options, and penalties,” according to a press release from Inslee’s office.
Drug possession was a felony until 2021, when the state Supreme Court struck down the law. In a case called State v. Blake, the court decided that the law was unconstitutional because it included people who did not realize they were carrying drugs. The 2021 approach classified intentional drug possession as a misdemeanor and required police to refer people to services twice before jail.
While the upcoming special session offers a chance for lawmakers to agree on a new statewide drug possession law, there are still significant challenges. The hope is that the special session will produce a bipartisan bill that can pass both chambers and provide a balanced policy that combines accountability and treatment.