STATEMENT: Failure to reform state’s disastrous drug-possession law rests squarely with House Democrats, says Republican leader

OLYMPIA… The 2023 legislative session has ended without the passage of a new state law on the possession of controlled substances, leaving it up to counties and cities to put their own drug-possession laws in place once the state law adopted in 2021 expires July 1.

Senate Republican Leader John Braun responded with this:

“Our state’s misdemeanor drug-possession law has been a total disaster. Everyone can see the results on our streets and sidewalks and freeway rights-of-way. In the Senate we worked hard to craft a bill that would not only work for law enforcement and our courts and local governments but would also gain enough bipartisan support. We sent that very reasonable and responsible approach to the House, and the majority Democrats said no. They wanted a weaker version closer to the failed law that’s been in place for two years.

“Some of us on the Senate side have tried multiple times in the past few days to find middle ground. The House majority leaders refused to work with us. They also refused to work with their House Republican colleagues on something that would gain bipartisan support, as we had done in the Senate. Instead, they brought a proposal to the House floor tonight and watched it go down in flames.

“Leaders in the Senate worked across the aisle in good faith and stood firm behind the better version of the policy. What we saw from the House Democrats was a complete failure of leadership. It’s as though they are heartless about the death and despair that fentanyl and other hard drugs have caused across our state, including their own districts, for most of the past two years.

“Governor Inslee decries the homelessness situation as a ‘scourge’ but has passed up the opportunity to show leadership on the drug-use issue that is the root cause of so much homelessness. Some are already suggesting he could call a special session, so the majority Democrats can have a do-over. It’s not clear what they would accomplish in a special session that they couldn’t get done in this 105-day session. At this point the people of our state would probably be better off to trust their local prosecutors, law-enforcement leaders and mayors to deal with this at the community level, with their own drug-possession laws.”

The Senate had voted March 3 for a new policy that would make possession of hard drugs a gross misdemeanor, improving on the Legislature’s disastrous response to the state Supreme Court’s 2021 Blake decision. On April 11 the House of Representatives amended SB 5536 to limit the charge for possession to a misdemeanor. After the Senate refused on Friday to go along with the weaker version, negotiators from the two chambers emerged with a new proposal Saturday evening. It failed tonight by a 43-55 vote in the House.