Tag Archives: ESB 5476

Washington Legislature Re-Criminalizes Drug Possession in Last Minute Vote

by Paul Kiefer

(This article originally appeared on PubliCola and has been reprinted under an agreement.)


After a last-minute rush to pass legislation in response to the Washington State Supreme Court’s decision in February that rendered the existing drug possession laws void, the Washington State Legislature passed new legislation on Saturday, April 24, re-criminalizing low-level drug possession by making it a misdemeanor and requiring local jurisdictions to provide treatment options for drug users. The bill, ESB 5476, directs law enforcement officers to divert people who violate the new law to “assessment, treatment, or other services” for the first two violations; after the second violation, a violator can be referred for prosecution and, potentially, a fine or jail.

After making compromises to pass the bill before the final day of the legislative session on Sunday, many lawmakers are not fully satisfied with the result. But had the legislature not passed a new law regulating drug possession, some lawmakers worried that a patchwork of local policies and enforcement practices would have filled the vacuum.

The decision that precipitated the scramble to adjust Washington’s drug possession laws, called State of Washington v. Blake, ruled that Washington’s so-called “strict liability” drug possession laws — which made no distinction between intentional and unintentional drug possession — violated the due process rights enshrined in both the state and federal constitutions.

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