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.