FOLLOWUP: New state drug law approved; here’s how 34th District legislators voted

Three weeks ago, the State Legislature adjourned without finalizing a new drug-possession law. Today, in a brief special session, both houses approved a revised version of the same bill that failed in April, SB 5536. Here’s the final version, quickly signed by Gov. Inslee. His website explains it:

Washington state’s new drug possession statute prioritizes treatment, establishes a gross misdemeanor penalty for drug possession and public use of drugs, and offers some local control to municipalities. …

A hallmark of the new bill is the degree of flexibility afforded to courts, prosecutors, municipalities, and community service providers.

The original bill that failed in the final hour of the regular session pre-empted local control. A difference in the latest version, one critical to its bipartisan support, was the continued ability for municipalities to approve or prohibit local “harm reduction” providers. Harm reduction services include needle exchanges, safe injection sites, and other programs designed to prevent disease or overdose. The ultimate bill signed by the governor lets local governments maintain some influence over these activities.

Prosecutors and courts were also granted some discretion in the final bill. Rather than have the Legislature set a rigid course for the new pretrial diversion program, courts and prosecutors may consider other alternatives to traditional prosecution. A defendant with behavioral health issues who is also addicted to drugs may benefit most from inpatient behavioral health treatment. A veteran fighting chemical dependency may be diverted to a veteran’s court program. Conversely, a defendant that has serially rejected treatment may be sent to jail. This flexibility may help courts find the right course for each defendant.

The three West Seattle-residing legislators who represent our area and the rest of the 34th District voted the same way they did in the regular-session vote – Sen. Joe Nguyen voted yes, as did Reo, Joe Fitzgibbon (who is also House Majority Leader), while Rep. Emily Alvarado voted no. The final House roll call was 83-13; in the Senate, 43-6.

28 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: New state drug law approved; here's how 34th District legislators voted"

  • onion May 16, 2023 (9:38 pm)

    I hope Ms Alvarado explains what she found wrong with the updated legislation.

  • MyThruppence May 16, 2023 (10:11 pm)

    I loved this part: “Conversely, a defendant that has serially rejected treatment may be sent to jail.”

    • Nora May 17, 2023 (12:19 am)

      Don’t get too attached. It says “may,” not “must”.

    • WW Resident May 17, 2023 (6:07 am)

      What people don’t understand is that chemical dependency treatment is an abysmal failure based on a disease model that is not only archaic, but an unproven hypothesis made by one doctor and pushed as an agenda of AA.The main problem is that people are autonomous and approximately 9 out of 10 people who quit drugs and alcohol do so without any professional treatment. These are the words of Bob Groeschell who ran the chemical dependency program at Seattle Central College in 2012. This is backed up by research. More treatment facilities just mean more jobs for chemical dependency counselors without much to show for it. Kind of like our homeless industrial complex

      • JcA May 17, 2023 (5:00 pm)

        Shout that from the rooftops. ———Wish WSB was mobile friendly…just lost my longer response, and I dislike that I cannot expand photos with my fingers…just saying, but still love you WSB.😍

        • WSB May 17, 2023 (6:18 pm)

          Hi, I just tested and had no problem expanding photos either with or without tapping to isolate them. We have two ways of viewing on mobile, either the designated mobile (which shows headlines on the home page) or the mobile view of the “desktop” design. (That’s how the toggle labels the two.)

      • Seattlite May 17, 2023 (7:29 pm)

        How do you explain all of the recovered alcoholics and addicts who have remained alcohol free and drug free for more than 20 years?  I know several recovered alcoholics and drug addicts who have been recovered for 20 to 30 years.  

  • Rhonda May 16, 2023 (11:55 pm)

    Thank God the bill penalty is a gross misdemeanor instead of just a misdemeanor. It’ll give more leverage to get users into the treatment they need but aren’t willing to on their own.

  • Admiral May 17, 2023 (8:03 am)

    Anyone doing illegal drugs in plain public view need to be arrested and held accountable!  It’s past time to set a firm boundary.

    • Brian May 17, 2023 (10:28 am)

      The legal ones are okay, though, yeah? It’s still cool if I pop a Xanax and get behind the wheel? Excellent. 

      • Rhonda May 17, 2023 (1:37 pm)

        No one said DUI is acceptable. Popping a Xanax (or even over-the-counter antihistamine) and getting behind the wheel is a crime.

        • Ivan Weiss May 17, 2023 (4:21 pm)

          Where do you come up with this rubbish Rhonda? It is NOT illegal to drive after taking an over-the-counter antihistamine. That is just flat wrong. It becomes illegal ONLY if your driving is seen to be impaired as a result. That is hardly the case for 100 percent pf people who take allergy medicines, or even for a majority of cases.

          • Rhonda May 17, 2023 (6:30 pm)

            Ivan, if you are pulled over for a busted light and tell the officer you are under the influence of prescriction Xanax he/she will be required cite you for driving after ingesting and impairing substance. If he/she pulls you over for unsafe driving you will be arrested and charged with a DUI. If you cause an accident, even if your vehicle doesn’t strike another vehicle, you will be charged with DUI. If you cause a death or serious injury, that’s felony DUI. A prescription is no defense against driving impaired.

          • CAM May 18, 2023 (6:37 am)

            Rhonda – this kind of application of the law is the reason DUI cases end up getting thrown out. Saying that a broken taillight establishes impaired driving rather than simply poverty or being too busy or lazy to get it fixed is a wild stretch of the imagination. That broken taillight was not the result of someone taking Xanax or any substance and even if it was, you’d have to establish it was a result of the current time they took Xanax (not some prior time they took it). And then you’d have to establish the damage was a result of them being impaired and not another driver hitting them. Prescription drugs can impair a person but don’t necessarily impair a person when taken within prescribing guidelines and in consultation with a doctor. Commenters on this blog rant and rave about first offense DUIs being treated more harshly and you are here saying they should be handed out like candy without any critical thinking. You are also suggesting that you would take away a person’s ability to drive for 6 months (before they are even convicted), impound their vehicle, and damage their insurance and driving record for life without sufficient probable cause to establish they were even impaired. Using a substance does not equal impaired and that is not what the law says. You want people to be friendlier to SPD and support funding requests, etc? Don’t say things like this. 

          • Ivan Weiss May 18, 2023 (5:56 am)

            You’re talking nonsense, Rhonda – as usual. Get it through your head – not all prescriptions impair all drivers all of the time. You were saying the simple act of driving while using antihistamines was illegal. That’s nonsense and you know it.

  • spacek May 17, 2023 (8:16 am)

    Alvarado does not have to explain anything. Clearly, it would be: ability for municipalities to approve or prohibit local “harm reduction” providers”It’s a shame that helping addicts is looked down upon. 

  • Scarlett May 17, 2023 (8:58 am)

    Let’s shut down society with all the attendant  disastrous consequences, e.g. increased drug use and overdose deaths, and now pass laws to correct our panicked overreaction.   Incidentally, for all their bellowing about Big Government, conservatives can’t seem to find enough taxpayer dollars for law enforcement, the prison industrial complex and the military industrial complex. 

    • Brian May 17, 2023 (10:30 am)

      It’s a wild and bold strategy to blame our country’s tepid covid response for the general dysfunction of society regarding drugs. You are absolutely not thinking critically here. 

      • WSDUDEMAN May 17, 2023 (10:53 am)

        No doubt. Many factors at play here that contribute to a societal decline in the form of hard drug usage. I do have to say though, ‘compassion’ as a strategy is failing.

        • wscommuter May 17, 2023 (11:44 am)

          More to the point, “compassion” as a strategy is myopic and disconnected from data-based reality.  One can care about the human beings who are addicted and still understand that for so many of them, they will remain mired in addiction unless forced to get help – tough love can be an act of compassion.   Anyone who’s had a family member addicted to anything from alchohol to fentanyl can understand that too often, the loved one doesn’t get help unless forced to.  That said, we have an obligation to provide the treatment necessary.  It doesn’t work to use the criminal justice system to force treatment if the addict in question is put on a long wait list for care.  

    • Ivan Weiss May 17, 2023 (10:40 am)

      @ Scarlett: That’s because conservatism can be boiled down to the “Four P” principles: Profit, Privilege, Prejudice, and Punishment. That is the sum total of what conservatives stand for.

    • Rhonda May 17, 2023 (7:36 pm)

      Well, Scarlett, I would say that the extreme increase in overdose deaths in King County in recent years (most of those in Seattle) is a disastrous consequence.

  • snowskier May 17, 2023 (9:02 am)

    Glad that the new agreement lets areas choose different carrots to use while also reinforcing that there is a big stick that should also be used when needed.  Sorry Ms Alvarado but all of one or the other doesn’t work.  Now it’s time to build more treatment facilities while also sending those who are treatment averse on to jail.

    • Scarlett May 17, 2023 (11:51 am)

      Actually,  Ms. Alvarado is the only one of her peers who showed backbone and didn’t succumb to public pressure and knee-jerk window dressing solutions.   Bravi, Ms. Alvarado.  

  • Gaslit May 17, 2023 (10:36 am)

    Politicians are never going to explain themselves or apologize to their constituents for their records. If you are voter who voted for Rep Alvarado, one should ask yourself if you voted to support decriminalizing Fentanyl twice because that’s exactly what she did. 

    For those who voted for supporters of this bill, the likely outcome is that Seattle will approve the “harm reduction” actions while pretty much every other municipality in the state will prohibit them. Is that what anyone voted for when selecting Nguyen or Fitzgibbon on a ballot? 

    So much ambiguous language in this bill for a landslide passage. Sounds like government trying to check boxes rather than actually put in the work to create policy. 

  • Jay May 17, 2023 (3:02 pm)

    Legalize everything and hand out pure, measured dozes at clinics. Put the Honduran Cartel working at my office door step out of business. Prohibition creates crime and violence. Unregulated drugs are what causes overdoses, you won’t get a hot shot from Pfizer but you will with the cartels bringing cut and misrepresented drugs into the city. Nothing can stop fentanyl because at the high concentration it’s absurdly easy to smuggle via plane, drones, and even shipping. We need to stop losing the war on drugs and dropping bodies on our streets in the process.

  • What a waste of time May 17, 2023 (3:21 pm)

    We will never win the war on drugs and these new laws will fail too. Sigh. I thought Inslee was headed in the right direction when he banned assault weapons but … It would be interesting to see if our population would be healthier with budget allotted to DEA / drug war was instead given to people initiatives for addiction treatment and substance education, homelessness, mental health, at risk youth and others that address community health. We should be offering lifelines not jail time to those for simply taking drugs. 

    • WW Resident May 17, 2023 (7:23 pm)

      You’re so naive to think that if we just had enough addiction treatment programs that this problem would be largely solved. Treatment is based largely off the disease model with AA/NA intrinsically tied into it. Court ordered treatment demands AA/NA meetings and research has shown that AA has a rather pathetic success rate. Forcing people to get sober/clean is so futile because people are autonomous. People will quit if they want to quit and in fact 90% of people who do quit, do so on their own. As long as this disease model tied heavily with AA is the mainstream “treatment” this problem will not get any better. A new paradigm needs to happen. Something that leans more to the biopsychosocial model rather than this white knuckling taking it one day at a time you’re a powerless addict for life that causes learned helplessness which reinforces the desire to use. And I know first hand, but maybe you could look at some of these treatment facilities politics and behind the scenes drama. It’s gross

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