Washington lawmakers have re-criminalized drug possession

For a moment, drug possession was effectively legalized in the state.
For a moment, drug possession was effectively legalized in the state.

Washington was one of the first two states to legalize recreational cannabis. That said, lawmakers don't want the state to be among the first two to do so when it comes to all drugs.

At the ballot box last November, voters in Oregon approved a measure that decriminalized possession of drugs. All of them. A few months later, in February, Washington found itself in an almost identical position as Oregon, except it wasn't by the will of the people. The state Supreme Court struck down Washington's felony drug possession law, declaring it to be unconstitutional. With that action, drug possession was effectively decriminalized.

For a moment, drugs were effectively legalized in the state.

On April 24 the state Legislature passed Engrossed Senate Bill 5476, which is a direct response to the Supreme Court's decision. It says that much in the very first line, which reads, "An act relating to responding to the State v. Blake decision."

Essentially, the bill makes simple possession of controlled substances illegal in the state once again, but as a misdemeanor rather than a felony. While the Supreme Court had effectively decriminalized drugs, this bill will once again make them illegal.

It was passed 80 to 18 in the House and 26 to 23 in the Senate. Of the 15 representatives in the Inlander's distribution area, nine voted in favor and six — Sens. Shelly Short, Mike Padden, Mark Schoesler and Judy Warnick, and Reps. Rob Chase and Bob McCaslin — voted against. The bill spent exactly one month on the floor before being passed.

As a result, the Legislature has come out in overwhelming opposition to the decriminalization of drugs, and a large majority of members agree.

So now it's on to Gov. Jay Inslee's desk for his signature.

In effect, it's a return to the status quo for drugs in Washington. The key difference is how possession is punished. Instead of a felony, it's now a misdemeanor, and the bill introduces a number of rehabilitation prospects rather than immediate punishments for possession.

Washington was among the first states to legalize cannabis. However, it's not ready to be on the forefront for other drugs. ♦

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