Washington Lawmakers Consider Drug Possession Penalties In New Session

Washington Lawmakers Consider Drug Possession Penalties In New Session
MJ moment

“I do feel like there’s a consensus building to do something that’s public-health focused, but also a little bit of an increased role in the justice system.” By Joseph O’Sullivan, Crosscut Should the legal system treat drug possession as a crime? How can society compel people with serious substance-use disorders to get treatment? And how do elected officials handle those questions? It’s been nearly two years since the state Supreme Court’s February 2021 ruling, known as the Blake decision, struck down Washington’s felony drug possession law. The ruling essentially invalidated decades’ worth of criminal convictions, as well as their legal financial obligations, like paying restitution for those crimes. And the court order—which took state lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee (D) by surprise—brought to the forefront these long-simmering questions about what a post-war-on-drugs society should look like. As a stopgap in the wake of the court decision, lawmakers and Inslee approved legislation that year that made unlawful possession of a drug a misdemeanor crime on the third violation, with officers supposed to present treatment options the first two times. Never intended as a permanent solution, that law sunsets in July 2023. Now lawmakers and Inslee must decide how the state handles both possession and treatment for narcotics—and they have a firm deadline. As they return to Olympia in early January, legislators now seek a longer-term solution for a thorny issue that has scrambled party lines and raised a host of complicated questions. The debate over drugs comes after a bitter midterm campaign in which Republicans attacked Democrats as soft on crime after progressive laws to reshape policing. Meanwhile, drug overdoses in Washington and around the nation have soared. This has all played out amid a broader reckoning with felony drug laws, which have over the years thrown up barriers to people…

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