Update: State drug possession law developing, latest version removes"personal use" provision which Monroe leaders didn't want
MONROE — The state Senate on Thursday passed a bill 28-20 to reinstate criminal penalties for possession of drugs. The bill is having its first reading in the state House of Representatives for first consideration on Friday, April 16.
In it, the Senate stripped a provision from state Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond) granting legal leeway to possess small personal amounts of hard drugs.
The bill as currently written also directs offenders of drug possession to treatment.
Earlier this week, Monroe city leaders sent a letter to state legislators asking to re-establish the drug possession law and asked to reject Dhingra’s provision.
"We are concerned that positive outcomes will decline if state law is revised to remove penalties for possession of illegal drugs," Monroe's letter sent on Thursday says.
Two months ago, the state Supreme Court voided the state's drug possession law because its strictness didn't offer the benefit of the doubt in oddball cases where people sincerely didn't know they were carrying drugs.
Dhingra's proposal is one of many in the legislature to re-establish the state's drug possession law. Some others simply rewrite the old law better to re-establish it as a felony. The bill the state Senate approved on Thursday evening is the one that’s carrying the most momentum through the Legislature.
The city is watching how state lawmakers fix the problem.
If state lawmakers stalemate and create nothing, the city plans to make its own city-level law to make drug possession a gross misdemeanor. The penalties are up to 364 days in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
Six Monroe council members and Mayor Geoffrey Thomas signed the letter.
Councilwoman Patsy Cudaback declined. Cudaback told colleagues last week that a drug possession law would adversely affect homeless people and adversely affect disadvantaged people.
In the letter, Monroe officials warn allowing personal possession damages hinder its efforts to convince people to get help. "While developing and implementing strategies, we have found that there is a benefit to having laws that prohibit the possession of even smaller amounts of illegal drugs," they wrote. People "frequently refuse" their chemical dependency help today.
The council also arranged Monroe's next moves: Send the letter first, and make an informed decision whether to proceed at the April 27 City Council meeting if the state Legislature finishes its session as planned April 25 without a new law.
Any state law legislators create would override cities from creating their own local laws, which would end Monroe's pursuit.
Marysville, Lake Stevens and now Mill Creek established have local laws making drug possession a misdemeanor. Mill Creek's council voted 4-2, plus one abstaining, last week to set its ordinance.
The state Supreme Court decided 5-4 in State vs. Blake that the state's rule written by the Legislature was unconstitutional. The basic problem was that when people got in a situation where they didn’t know they were carrying drugs, they were still convicted. The old law didn't challenge prosecutors to prove a person charged with drug possession actually knew. The state Supreme Court ruled this failed to meet the principles of constitutional due process.
Washington state's law was the only state where its legislature wrote the law this way.
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