TVW Update

Inside Olympia — Drug Possession

(Photo credit Washington State Patrol)

In February, in a 5-4 decision in the “Blake” case, the WA Supreme Court struck down the state’s felony drug possession law, thereby decriminalizing drug possession. The majority found the law unconstitutional, because it didn’t require prosecutors to prove a person intended to possess drugs. The case stemmed from the conviction of a woman who said she was unaware that a pair of jeans she received from a friend contained a bag of methamphetamine.

Many lawmakers viewed this as an opportunity to rethink the state’s approach to regulating drugs. The 2021 Legislature passed a temporary solution that, for two years, makes simple possession of drugs a misdemeanor. Police and prosecutors will be required to try to steer people intro treatment instead of jail. The state will also put more money into expanding treatment capacity in the state.

And, the Legislature created a task force to come up with a longer-term fix. Because, after the two years is up, simple drug possession will again be decriminalized — unless the Legislature acts. Some say the next step should be decriminalization. Others think it should be more than a misdemeanor. Behind these different ideas is agreement on the need for treatment. The question is, how best to do that? Is the threat of jail time an incentive to treatment, or a failed policy that should no longer be used?

Host Austin Jenkins sits down with four legislators, two Democrats and two Republicans, who have been deeply involved in the Blake issue: Sens. Manka Dhingra and Ron Muzzall, and Reps. Lauren Davis and Gina Mosbrucker.

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