Senate passes drug possession fix, sponsor votes against it

OLYMPIA, Wash. — In late February, a slim majority of the state Supreme Court overturned the minor drug possession law because it could convict people of a felony “...without proof that the defendant even knew they possessed the substance.”

Now cities like Marysville and, just this week, Mill Creek, have been enacting their own drug laws while state lawmakers work on a fix.

Redmond Senator Manka Dhingra proposed decriminalizing small amounts of drugs for people over the age of 21, and ramping up treatment options to help people with substance use disorder.

But she ended up voting against her own bill last night, when it was changed to make minor possession a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

“That was a very weird moment,” Sen. Dhingra said today.

She says it’s wrong to use the criminal justice system to pressure users to get treatment.

“Unfortunately, it’s the brown and Black individuals who are going to be stopped more and frisked more.”

The Senate legislation now goes to the House, which is taking a different approach. Legislation there proposes making minor drug possession a civil infraction with fines, and ramping up treatment.

Kirkland Representative Roger Goodman is leading the effort in the House.

“There’s a lot of evidence that when treatment is made available, people take it, they go to it, they don’t need to be threatened to go into treatment,” Goodman said.

Since the Supreme Court’s decision, police officers complain that drug users with small amounts of drugs now defy them.

“We’re going to put a structure in place where law enforcement intervenes, where they can confiscate the substance, and where they can issue a penalty of some sort,” responded Rep. Goodman.

Hearings on his proposal begin Monday.