On Monday, the Senate Committee on Law and Justice held a hearing on five bills that addressed the 2021 Washington State Supreme Court ruling impacting uncontrolled drug possession. The decision—known as “Blake”—allows the possession of any drug that is not under the control of the state, such as state-controlled cannabis and liquor sales. The Blake decision allows possession of illicit drugs such as cocaine, fentanyl, opium, and heroin, among others. In 2022, the Legislature passed a temporary—and unsuccessful—fix that attempted to guide people caught with drugs to seek treatment. This legal Band-Aid expires this summer.
Senate Bills 5022, 5035, 5467, 5536, and 5624 seek to increase treatment options and availability while at the same time imposing penalties for illegal drug possession. The bills range from imposing stiff sentences and felony charges, likely to include jail time, to a very lenient misdemeanor, which wouldn’t likely result in a sentence requiring time in jail. The argument for stiffer penalties is that they would incentivize convicted individuals to accept treatment over jail time.
Public safety, retail theft, and organized retail crime are often tied to illegal drug use and addiction. ORC crime rings prey on those suffering from substance addiction or mental illness. If we can get these individuals the treatment they need and deserve—or in extreme cases, put them behind bars—public safety would increase while we would see retail theft and ORC decrease.
WR strongly encourages the Legislature to approve these bills as part of a multi-pronged approach to dealing with these pressing issues.