Dear friends and neighbors,
Through my legislative updates this year, I’ve shared information with you on a wide variety of topics being discussed in Olympia this session. From climate legislation, testifying remotely, taxes proposals and emergency powers, this legislative session has been one for the history books! Today I want to update you on a complex issue that we as lawmakers are in the middle of addressing right now.
State v. Blake
You may have heard in the news recently that the Washington State Supreme Court handed down a decision regarding drug possession. Today I want to share some background information with you on this subject as well as what the legislature is proposing in response to the court’s ruling.
The Supreme Court’s ruling stems from a case that started with police officers executing a search warrant regarding stolen vehicles. During this investigation, officers arrested a woman named Shannon Blake for her involvement. After Shannon was booked into jail, a corrections officer found methamphetamine in her pants pocket and charged her with possession of controlled substance. At trial, Shannon claimed she didn’t know that the drug was in her pocket, stating the pants belonged to a friend. After losing that argument, Shannon appealed and her case was heard by the Court of Appeals, where her argument failed again. She then appealed to the state Supreme Court and after taking her case, they overturned the previous courts’ rulings by reasoning that the state must prove the individual knowingly had possession in order to prove guilt.
What does the Supreme Court’s ruling mean?
The Supreme Court’s ruling in this case means that it is now legal to possess a small amount of drugs or controlled substances in the state of Washington. Effective immediately, law enforcement officers in our state can no longer conduct a criminal investigation, arrest, seek a search warrant, or take any other law enforcement action for simple possession of controlled substances.
Here are the impacts of this decision:
- Allows for the release of all pre-trial detainees whose only charged offenses are simple possession.
- Releases those in jail who are currently only serving time on simple possession.
- Reverses all arrest warrants issued in cases in which the only charge is simple possession of drugs.
- Either dismisses all cases in which the only charge is simple possession of drugs or requires additional charges of another crime to be brought forward.
- Allows drug court participants whose only underlying charge is simple possession of drugs to withdraw from drug court and have their charges dismissed.
Simply put, this ruling is going to cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in court and legal fees and will allow individuals with drug possession convictions to be let out of jail.
What is the legislature doing to address this problem?
While there are a wide variety of opinions on how to address the issues derived from this ruling, there are only two main legislative proposals that appear to have traction at this point.
Senate Bill 5475 by Senator Mark Mullet:
- Adds the intent element of “knowingly” possessing a controlled substance and making that possession illegal.
- Adds a legislative workgroup to study the impacts of the Supreme Court’s decision and recommend future actions to the legislature.
Senate Bill 5476 by Senator Manka Dhingra:
- Removes all penalties and legalizes drug possession for personal use for individuals over 21 so long as they aren’t above specified amounts. Personal use amounts are defined as:
- 40 units of methadone;
- 40 pills of oxycodone;
- one gram of heroin;
- one gram or five pills of MDMA;
- two grams of cocaine;
- two grams of methamphetamine;
- 40 units of LSD; or
- 12 grams of psilocybin.
- Creates an infraction for using drugs in public—consistent with alcohol and marijuana laws
- Makes it illegal for individuals under the age of 21 to possess controlled substances.
- Authorizes law enforcement to refer individuals possessing a personal use amount of a controlled substance for treatment; although treatment is not mandatory.
As you can likely discern, the largest item of debate concerns the legalization of illegal drugs for personal use. One side says we must only treat addiction as a behavioral health issue. They hold a firm line that drug use should never result in a felony offense. The other side agrees that the best place for a person addicted to drugs is not in jail. Treatment is certainly preferable. They also say that at some point, the threat of a felony level offense is appropriate and must be maintained as an option to encourage treatment.
In the end, I expect we will find a compromise position with options or mandates for treatment for the first or second offense and possibly incarceration or criminal penalty for multiple offenses.
The situation is still being heavily negotiated and I’ll provide an update once the legislature comes to a final decision. Between now and then, please feel free to reach out and let me know your thoughts on this important topic. The bill is eligible to come for debate on the Senate Floor as early as tomorrow.
Keep your information safe!
The Washington State Auditor has made credit monitoring available to all residents in Washington as part of their response to the Employment Security data breach. To learn more about keeping your information secure, click here.
I do hope you have enjoyed learning more about issues the legislature is addressing this session. If there are topics of concern to you, please do not hesitate to reach out to my office by phone at (253) 840-4523 or by email at Chris.Gildon@leg.wa.gov. Now, more than ever, it is vital that you are connected with the decisions being made by lawmakers.
It is an honor serving you!
Senator, 25 LD