The Washington State passed a bill Friday that would make the possession and use of hard drugs a gross misdemeanor and give courts more leverage to compel an individual to enter and successfully complete treatment programs for their substance abuse.

Senate Bill 5536 was approved 28-21 and will be forwarded to the Washington House for further consideration.

In February of 2021, the Washington State Supreme Court issued it's Blake Decision which ruled Washington’s felony drug-possession law was  unconstitutional.  The ruling has effectively decriminalized the possession and use of drugs like heroin and methamphetamine. As a result, individuals caught in possession are referred to treatment services instead of jail on their first two offenses.  A third or any subsequent cases are only considered a misdemeanor charge.

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State Sen. Brad Hawkins issued the following statement on SB5536:

“Many of my legislative colleagues have characterized drug abuse as a ‘personal healthcare issue.’ I don’t necessarily disagree, but our state needs to maintain options in our criminal justice system to protect people from themselves and others. I would have preferred something much stronger, but this is a bipartisan compromise.

“This is one of the most important issues of this session. The Senate’s approach isn’t a perfect solution, but I believe it strikes the right balance between having a helping hand of compassion and a heavier hand of punishment. One way or another, we need to get people the help they need to get healthy, but we also don’t want them endangering themselves or others.”

NOTE: Hawkins is scheduled to appear on KPQ's The Agenda Program on Monday, March 6th at 1pm if his legislative schedule and floor voting permits.

The Senate Republican Leader John Braun said the bill is an improvement over the weaker version crafted two years ago in response to Blake;

“The Senate passed a similar bill in 2021 but faltered when negotiating a compromise with the House. The much-weaker law that resulted took our state down a disastrous path that has destroyed countless lives and caused great harm in many communities.

“While there is still room for improvement, the legislation passed today is actually better than the first Blake bill that came out of the Senate two years ago. Charging drug possession as a gross misdemeanor is the same, but this carries the added leverage of a minimum sentence and is more detailed about how treatment services would be provided.”

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