Senate Republican Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, voiced support for Senate Bill 5536, which would make possession and use of certain drugs a gross misdemeanor, in a prepared statement following its passage last week.
According to Braun, the bill, which passed the state Senate by a vote of 28 to 21 on Friday, would restore legal leverage that can compel people to seek and complete substance-use treatment.
While Braun had reservations regarding the bill, he argued it was better than similar legislation that passed the state Senate in 2021.
“While there is still room for improvement, the legislation passed today is actually better than the first Blake bill that came out of the Senate two years ago. Charging drug possession as a gross misdemeanor is the same, but this carries the added leverage of a minimum sentence and is more detailed about how treatment services would be provided,” Braun said.
Braun criticized the two-year gap between the passage of the previous legislation and SB 5536, arguing it had been a mistake to experiment in drug decriminalization.
“If the Senate had held firm on the gross-misdemeanor penalty in 2021, think of the pain and suffering that could have been prevented, and how the streets and rights-of-way in our communities might look different today. The better policy regarding treatment services could have been added later, as a stand-alone bill,” Braun said.
According to Braun, SB 5536 represents the correct path to dealing with challenging policy questions. Pointing to the amendments made to the bill throughout its movement through the state Senate, Braun said the process allowed legislators to “offer and talk through ideas for improvement.”
“The priority now is to avoid a repeat of 2021, and make sure this good policy proposal doesn’t get weakened before it reaches the governor. We must do better this time,” Braun said.
The bill is a response to the Washington state Supreme Court’s February 2021 ruling in State v. Blake, which found Washington’s felony drug-possession law unconstitutional. Braun argued the ruling effectively decriminalized the possession and use of drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine. The ruling required first and second time offenders to be referred to treatment services instead of jail, with subsequent offenses only allowed to carry the penalty of a misdemeanor.