Local governments act after state drug law fails in Legislature
SNOHOMISH COUNTY — Local legislators are lining up laws to make drug possession and use illegal locally after a statewide law didn’t clear the Legislature.
County Councilman Nate Nehring, for one, announced he plans to introduce a countywide criminalization of drug possession.
The city of Everett is working on its own local law for all public spaces. Everett’s law proposes a misdemeanor penalty for public drug consumption or possession, except cannabis, without clauses asking prosecutors to send violators into drug diversion.
In Olympia, a rejection of late-call alterations to the state’s drug possession law means the current one has nothing to replace it when the law expires July 1. On Sunday, the state House voted 43-55 against SB 5536 on the last day of the Legislative session.
According to the Northwest Progressive Institute, now there are calls to have a special Legislative session geared specifically to create and pass a fixed version after this week’s failure.
The House’s altered version of the bill kept drug possession as a gross misdemeanor, but softened down open drug use in public to a misdemeanor from being a gross misdemeanor, and made it legal to possess “smoking supplies” without risk of civil infraction. Both versions contained many ways to have a conviction vacated, including if someone completes a substance use disorder treatment program.
The expiration date is because the current law written in 2021 has a sunset clause. The prior law to that was wiped out as unconstitutional by a state Supreme Court ruling of State v. Blake where a woman surnamed Blake was arrested for having drugs on her but didn’t know the secondhand pants she had on had drugs in a pocket.
Before Sunday’s vote, the countywide lobby group Mayors and Business Leaders for Public Safety, which is chaired by Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin and Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring, urged all local House legislators to vote no.
“At this time, we would ask that Snohomish County legislators vote ‘no’ on Senate Bill 5536 and give local governments the authority to address issues related to drug possession, public drug use and treatment incentives in their own jurisdictions,” the lobby group said in a statement. “We continue to believe that a meaningful solution must effectively balance legal consequences and treatment options to reverse the impacts of Blake, and that the current version of the legislation falls short of that test.”
Fifteen Democrats joined with all 40 Republicans to reject SB 5536.
All local House Democrats voted in favor of SB 5536.
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