By Alexandria Osborne
Washington State Journal 

Legislature adjourns sine die

Lawmakers could be called back to session

 

Last updated 5/19/2023 at 9:21am



OLYMPIA – The Legislature adjourned April 23 after failing to approve a controversial bill setting drug possession penalties, raising the possibility of a special session in the coming weeks to resolve the issue.

Drug possession became a misdemeanor two years ago when the state Supreme Court invalidated the law that made drug possession a felony.

Hurried legislation made the crime a misdemeanor, but many thought that charge was too light.

The Legislature debated Senate Bill 5536, which would have stiffened current penalties. But it failed to pass.

“S.B. 5536 was supposed to be a ‘fix’ to the Washington State Supreme Court’s Blake decision, which effectively decriminalized possession of hard drugs like heroin, methamphetamine, and fentanyl,” Rep. Jim Walsh, R- Aberdeen said. “That decision is a big reason that fentanyl has become such a problem in this state. But S.B. 5536 didn’t actually fix the problem.”

The bill would have made possession a gross misdemeanor, with a fine of $5,000 and up to one year of jail time.

The final vote was 43-55 in the House.

Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said she hoped there would be bipartisan support for the bill, but no Republicans voted for the bill.

“The fact that we are not going to have a piece of legislation on this, their failure to have any votes for this bill, is going to result in methamphetamines, fentanyl and heroin, the possession of those drugs being legalized across the state,” she said. “They better sit and think about what it is they’re doing.”

Gov. Jay Inslee said failing to pass a bill is unacceptable.

“We expect the Washington State Legislature to produce a bill that will not decriminalize drugs,” he said. “Tonight we had 43 representatives willing to step up to the plate, not one single Republican…,” he said. “I’m disappointed by that.”

Inslee said a fix must be made by July 1 when the current law expires.

 

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