35th district representatives vote yes on new drug law bill, warn more work needed in years to come

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CONTACT: Hanna Scott, Public Information Officer for Reps. Travis Couture and Dan Griffey | 360-968-3938

35th district representatives vote yes on new drug law bill, warn more work needed in years to come

On Tuesday, day one of the first special session of the 2023 Legislature, Washington state lawmakers passed the long-awaited fix for a law on drug possession and use  

“If you do compromise correctly, not everyone gets what they want – no one is totally happy. That is what we have here,” said Rep. Dan Griffey, R-Allyn. “This bill is miles ahead of the very dangerous policy that was brought up and failed on the last day of the regular session and it is a great place for us to start.”

“Drive through any neighborhood in our state and you can see just how urgent it is that we get a statewide drug policy with some teeth to it – this bill has more teeth than we’ve had for more than two years,” said Rep. Travis Couture, R-Allyn. “Is it perfect? No. But I believe it will make a difference and save lives.”

Washington state has been in the throes of a drug crisis that started long before the state Supreme Court invalidated the state’s felony drug possession law in 2021 in State v. Blake. Since that decision was handed down, there has been a dramatic increase in crime and drug overdose deaths across the state. In King County, the state’s largest county, more than two people die from overdose every day – mostly due to synthetic fentanyl.

“This debate is about balancing accountability for those responsible for the rampant crime we see on our streets and compassion for those willing to seek treatment, as well as the communities dealing with the aftermath, “said Couture. “I believe this policy gets us started down that path. But there are gaps that we need to address.”

“I absolutely believe treatment has an important role to play in how we respond to the devastating drug crisis we are dealing with in Washington. But that treatment must be paired with an accountability component. The last version of this bill did not have that and would have led to many more people dying on our streets,” said Griffey. “My biggest concern moving forward is that it’s going to take years to build the treatment infrastructure we funded this year and until then some of the people who need help won’t truly be able to get it. Still, I know this bill will save lives.”

The bill passed during Tuesday’s special session was significantly changed from the version brought to the floor in the final hours of the regular session that ultimately failed after every Republican in the House and 15 Democrats voted against the bill.

Under the failed bill, possession would have also been a gross misdemeanor, but that bill also created a diversion process that would have led to a revolving door of offenses and left prosecutors largely out of the decision making. The bill also would have blocked local governments from refusing to site needle exchanges in their communities, created health engagement hubs/safe injection sites for adults and children, and more that led to the universal opposition among House Republicans.

Under the bill passed Tuesday:

  • The penalty for possession or public use is a modified gross misdemeanor. It caps the maximum penalty at 180 days in jail for the first two convictions and 364 days for the third and subsequent convictions. The bill also grants:
    • Greater prosecutorial control of subsequent diversions to hold criminals accountable; and
    • Flexibility to courts and prosecutors to fashion appropriate consequences for knowing possession, knowing use in a public space, and allows for charges of other crimes in addition to possession and use crimes.
  • Cities, towns, and counties can enact laws/ordinances relating to the establishment or regulation of harm reduction services/needle exchanges
  •  Recovery residences are not required to have space for active drug users.
  • Health engagement hubs are not intended to be open to youth as well as adults.

“We need to put an end to the rampant drug use we see every day in our communities,” said Couture. “This bill will help ensure those who refuse to take steps to get better no longer get a free pass. It will also give our law enforcement what they need to make a difference.”

“I thank all of my colleagues who worked so hard and with such passion on that issue. This was extremely hard work, and that work is not done,” said Griffey. “Moving forward I am open to hearing more about some of the new possibilities some of our more progressive friends across the aisle have supported. I also hope we can start making abstinence part of the conversation.”

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Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov