Thursday, May 6, 2021
May 6, 2021

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Washington Senate OKs bill to reinstate drug possession penalties


OLYMPIA — The Washington Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would reinstate criminal penalties for drug possession.

The Seattle Times reported that lawmakers approved Senate Bill 5476, in response to the state Supreme Court’s ruling that struck down Washington’s felony possession law.

The version that passed Thursday brings back criminal penalties for possession. But instead of a felony, those instances would now be treated as a gross misdemeanor.

The bill passed on a vote of 28 to 20, with a rare mix of Democrats and Republicans voting on either side. It now moves to the House.

The version approved is a revision of the proposal by Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond. Her original bill would have made it a gross misdemeanor for someone under the age of 21 to be in possession of a controlled substance.

Then, it would have set legal thresholds for the possession of different types of drugs.

Dhingra on Thursday spoke out against the new version of her bill on the Senate floor, saying it wasn’t the right approach and she opposed it.

The Legislature is scrambling to respond to a sweeping 5-4 decision the Washington Supreme Court made in February that the law making simple drug possession a crime was unconstitutional because — unlike the drug laws of every other state — it did not require prosecutors to prove that the defendant knowingly possessed the drugs.

The ruling left the possession of small amounts of controlled substances, from LSD to heroin and cocaine, legal under state law.

It has implications for tens of thousands of cases dating back decades, with defendants able to seek to have their convictions vacated or to receive refunds for fines. In addition, inmates who received longer prison terms for other crimes because their offender score was boosted by a past drug possession conviction will be eligible for resentencing.