OLYMPIA – Upon voting against her own bill, SB 5476, after an amendment was adopted that fundamentally altered it, Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond) today released this statement:

“After the Washington State Supreme Court struck down the statute concerning controlled substances, I asked two key questions before drafting legislation in response.

“First, does the state need to act? The answer was and remains overwhelmingly yes. Nearly everyone I have spoken with understands that we do not want a patchwork system of laws by local governments sowing confusion among Washingtonians about what is allowed and where.

“Second, what should the response be? My answer was and remains that jails and prisons are not the answer for substance use disorder.

“The war on drugs has failed. The punishment-first approach has devastated communities, especially communities of color.

“For 27 years, Washington state has been gradually transitioning our response to substance use disorder away from the failed policies of the war on drugs and toward an approach that prioritizes treatment and public health. This legislation was about continuing that movement to provide individuals the treatment and help that they need so they can recover.

“After being amended, Senate Bill 5476 still answers my first question but no longer satisfies my second.

“I understand the importance of keeping a statewide policy response moving, and this compromise was the only way to do that. But I cannot support the form it took.

“Too many lives, especially Black and brown lives, will continue to be shattered by a criminal justice approach to what is fundamentally a public health problem.  We know that these laws are disproportionately used against Black and brown lives. The consequences of enforcement are not felt equally by all.

“We know from decades of experience that criminal penalties for substance use disorder don’t help people who need treatment and don’t keep communities safe.

“What does help is providing people access to treatment. That’s the system we have been building, and that’s the system I believe we must continue to build.”

The 2021 legislative session is scheduled to adjourn on April 25.