OLYMPIA — A bill to amend Washington’s drug possession laws and expand access to pretrial treatment programs passed out of the Senate Law & Justice Committee Thursday. 

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, the Legislature established a simple misdemeanor penalty for knowing possession that same year, but it is set to expire July 1, 2023. 

“It’s clear we need a new response to drug possession, one that increases access to substance use treatment and emphasizes care over criminalization,” Robinson said. “This bill does just that and is the result of many conversations with community members, law enforcement, local government leaders, behavioral health providers and more. By investing in support systems based in real solutions like treatment, we can — and will — build healthier communities.” 

If passed, SB 5536 would classify knowing possession of a controlled substance or counterfeit controlled substance as gross rather than simple misdemeanors, ensure people charged with these offenses have access to pretrial diversion programs, and provide funding for treatment programs and services. A person could also have a conviction vacated after successfully completing treatment.  

The bill now heads to the Senate Ways & Means Committee. Follow its progress here.