At the last minute, lawmakers killed a measure that would have given states more authority to punish drug use

Washington News
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When the present prohibition expires on July 1, possession of illegal drugs will be permitted at the state level unless Washington officials act before then. A controversial Senate measure on drug possession backfired in the House despite extensive talks, shocking Washington officials late Sunday night.

"We cannot accept decriminalization in the middle of a fentanyl crisis," stated Democratic Washington Governor Jay Inslee.

Earlier in the day, Inslee had voiced his support and excitement for Senate Bill 5536, a bill that had been heavily negotiated to meet the needs of senators who wanted to see a balance struck between punishment and rehabilitation.

On Sunday night, with just a few hours remaining in the parliamentary session, it was voted down by the House in a 43 to 55 vote. The present state statute, which reduces narcotics possession to a misdemeanor after the third arrest, will sunset in a few months. After a third arrest, the maximum penalty is 90 days in prison, a $1,000 fine, or both.

The proposed amendment to Senate Bill 5536 would increase the maximum punishment for a heinous misdemeanor from 364 days in prison to $5,000 in penalties or both.

The negotiated measure, on the other hand, would have incentivized judges to facilitate defendant stabilization or recovery and would have permitted those convicted of drug possession to have their convictions expunged upon successful completion of an approved substance use disorder treatment program.

Republican Representative for Texas's Second Congressional District, J.T. Wilcox, argued that even making the offense a severe misdemeanor wasn't enough to win over Republican support. Given the abundance of exits, Wilcox argued that the danger was overstated.

Concerns were also voiced regarding the provision of the law that would prevent local governments from establishing needle exchange programs. Wilcox stated, "I'm not against a carefully managed needle exchange." However, he believes that local governments should have the power to decide whether and when such an exchange takes place. Why they wouldn't accept a middle ground on that topic is beyond me.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives of Washington, Democrat Laurie Jinkins of District 27, expressed surprise that no Republicans planned to support the measure. Jinkins claimed ignorance of Republican reservations about the legislation.

On Monday, Jinkins reportedly attempted to initiate discussions with Republican leadership on a fresh plan by contacting them. Needless conversations, she said, should be prioritized in the legislation since they help people get therapy.

Jinkins That's not what the people of Washington State desire, in my opinion. They hope that others they care about will seek treatment so that they, too, may be freed from their condition and become active members of society.

Concerns about the increased harshness of punishments were raised by opponents in the House. Rep. Gina Mosbrucker (R-14th District) said that the measure wouldn't assist addicts who "don't feel like they're worthy enough for recovery" because of their addiction.

Some people have sought more responsibility. Concerns were also raised regarding the effects the war on drugs has had on American families.

Democratic 37th District Representative Chipalo Street questioned the widespread acceptance of the premise that severe punishments are necessary to combat the drug epidemic. Inslee spoke out about the vote on Sunday night.

Since the compromise bill did not pass, drug possession may be decriminalized statewide as of July 1. Unless anything changes before then, jurisdictions at the state and municipal levels will be responsible for enforcement.

Still, Inslee pushed chamber leaders on Sunday to find "enough votes" to enact anything that would put statewide criminal sanctions into effect by the conclusion of the legislative year.

It remains to be seen how Inslee will use his power to bring legislators into a special session. The urgency of the situation was emphasized by House members who spoke in support of the measure on Sunday.

Representative Monica Stonier, the Democratic House Majority Floor Leader, said, "Everything that comes with substance use disorder—defecation on the streets, needles in our parks, all of the things we've heard about that we fear—will be worse if this bill fails."

Inslee had earlier tweeted his support for the negotiated law, writing, Ultimately, treatment is what works with people." However, a criminal sentence was kept intact to send a clear message that those who refused treatment would face consequences.

Before 2021, drug possession in Washington State was a crime, but the state's highest court overturned that law. Inslee said earlier in the weekend that he agrees with the need for drug law reform in Washington state.

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