OLYMPIA — A bill to amend Washington’s drug possession laws and expand access to pretrial treatment programs was signed into law Tuesday, after passing both the House and Senate with bipartisan support.
Senate Bill 5536, sponsored by Sen. June Robinson (D-Everett), permanently addresses the state Supreme Court’s 2021 State v. Blake ruling, which struck down the statute that made possession of controlled substances a class C felony and removed any criminal penalties for possession. In response, that year the Legislature established a simple misdemeanor penalty for knowing possession, but it is set to expire July 1, 2023.
The bill reclassifies knowing possession of a controlled or counterfeit substance as a gross misdemeanor and expands treatment options and pretrial diversion programs for people charged with possession. The latest version allots an additional $19 million toward substance use disorder treatment, housing and local jurisdiction costs. The process for vacating convictions is also streamlined, ensuring people can successfully transition back into the community.
“Substance use disorder is not a partisan issue but a human one,” Robinson said. “We know our state must continue to invest in systems based in real solutions like treatment and strike a balance between care and accountability — that is exactly what this bill does.”