ACLU of Washington comment on House passage of bill that reestablishes criminal penalties for drug possession

News Release: 
Wednesday, April 12, 2023
OLYMPIA – Early Wednesday, the Washington House passed E2SSB 5536, a bill that reestablishes criminal penalties for drug possession after the state Supreme Court struck down the prior possession statute as unconstitutional.
The bill continues to represent a step backwards as it returns to the Senate for consideration of House amendments. Following the State v. Blake decision in 2021, an expert advisory committee convened by the state’s Health Care Authority recommended decriminalization of possession and study of options for providing safer drug supplies to supplant the fentanyl-laced street sources fueling the overdose epidemic.
Washington State has a history of groundbreaking drug policy reforms that replace policies grounded in racism and punitive deployment of policing and incarceration with evidence-based approaches focused on social determinants of health. The legislature failed to follow the recommendations set forth by the advisory committee, instead reverting to a “War on Drugs” mentality rather than investing in a public health approach.
M. Lorena González, ACLU-WA's legislative director, had this reaction:
“It is discouraging to watch the leadership of legislators who've studied, witnessed, and experienced the devastation of drug policies rooted in marginalization be met with 1980s political rhetoric. The electorate is ahead of Olympia on this issue. East and west, in both urban and rural communities, Washingtonians are painfully aware that ‘scared straight’ strategies leveraging the fear and trauma of arrest and incarceration is political spin at best and life-threatening too frequently. Voters want pragmatic, science-based solutions that address the root causes of substance use disorder, not a resurrection of ‘Just Say No’ platitudes.”