WA House To Consider Drug Possession Bill Passed By Senate
The Washington House will now look at an illegal drug possession bill passed by the Senate.
The measure would replace the stop-gap law passed in 2021 in which a person is offered treatment twice, and is not charged with a crime until the third offense.
The Senators representing Chelan and Douglas counties were split on the bill, with Republican Brad Hawkins voting in favor.
"This is probably one of the most important issues of the session," said Hawkins. "And the Senate's approach isn't the perfect solution. But I believe it strikes the right balance between having a helpful hand of compassion, and a heavier hand of punishment to help people get back on track."
Seventh District Republican Senator Shelly Short, who represents much of Douglas County, voted against the bill.
The Senate bill makes simple drug possession a gross misdemeanor and requires treatment for people convicted of the crime.
In February 2021, the state Supreme Court struck down the long-standing state law that had made illegal drug possession a felony, deeming it unconstitutional.
The bill passed by the Senate late Friday night creates a pretrial diversion program for people charged with possession of prohibited substances.
It requires courts to impose minimum jail sanctions on defendants convicted of possession who refuse substance use disorder (SUD) treatment or who willfully abandon treatment or consistently fail to comply with treatment.
It further requires courts to vacate convictions of possession for defendants who successfully complete required SUD treatment and file proof with the court.
It enacts recommendations of the Substance Use and Recovery Services.
The Senate passed a similar measure during the 2021 session. That bill was amended in the House to loosen the penalties to their current form.
Senate Republican Leader John Braun issued a statement, in which he expressed hope the House wouldn’t repeat its actions from 2021.
"The priority now is to avoid a repeat of 2021, and make sure this good policy proposal doesn’t get weakened before it reaches the governor," said Braun. "We must do better this time.”
The late Friday night vote of 28-21 divided both Republicans and Democrats.
A number of Democrats voting against the bill are in favor of decriminalizing simple illegal drug possession, while some Republicans would like to stiffen penalties.
Republican Senator Mike Padden of Spokane Valley offered an amendment which would have made simple possession of Fentanyl a felony. The amendment was rejected.
Senator Hawkins voted to pass the bill, but also offered an amendment that was voted down.
It would have required prosecutors to make a motion to terminate pretrial diversion if the defendant is convicted of an offense that reflects the defendant's propensity for violence, or the defendant is convicted of a felony.
The Senate passed the drug possession bill shortly after 11pm Friday after gaveling in at 9:50pm with no other bills on its schedule.