Are All Drugs Really Legal in Washington State? Right now the answer is yes
In a surprise decision made on Thursday, February 25, the Washington State Supreme Court overturned the state’s founding law on possession of drug sentences.
Police no longer arrest people for simple drug possession in Washington state. Will it take? Hard to say.
The law in question, RCW 69.50.4013, made mere possession of a controlled substance a criminal offense, punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment without evidence that the person knowingly possessed the drug.
In yesterday’s ruling, a majority of judges concluded that the law “exceeds the police force of the state” and is unconstitutional.
The response to the verdict was quick. Within hours, the Seattle Police Department announced that its officers would no longer arrest people under the simple property law. The Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs sent out a notice stating: “Effective immediately, Washington law enforcement officers are no longer empowered to conduct a criminal investigation, make an arrest, request a search warrant, or simply take other law enforcement action on property controlled Substances. ”
Are All Drugs Legal In Washington State Now? The answer seems to be yes, at least for now.
You have questions. We have answers. Here are the most pressing riddles that emerged from yesterday’s decision answered. Note: This should not be viewed as professional legal advice.
Can I buy the RV and play Breaking Bad?
Slow down your part there, Walter. The court’s ruling applies only to simple possession, not sales, distribution, criminal conspiracy, or any of the myriad activities that can get a person into trouble with the law when it comes to illegal drugs. If a police officer finds you are cooking meth in a Winnebago racket in the desert, you will be arrested and prosecuted.
Seriously, I can’t be arrested for drug possession?
Cops can arrest you for almost anything, as anyone who’s been in protest over the past year can tell you. However, in Washington State, law enforcement officials have largely suspended all simple arrests of drug users as a result of the Supreme Court ruling.
Is this like Oregon’s Drugs Decriminalization Act?
Not exactly. But it provides a unique opportunity for state lawmakers to conduct Oregon-style drug decriminalization before citizens do it themselves through a statewide voter initiative. The Washington ACLU last year advocated a proposed citizen anti-drug initiative, but efforts lagged due to pandemic restrictions on signature collection.
Theshia Naidoo, head of the Drug Policy Alliance’s legal department, noted that there is already a statewide drug control bill in place that is being seriously scrutinized by lawmakers in Olympia:
This decision is a perfect fit with the drug decriminalization bill passed by the legislature that has already left the committee. We urge lawmakers to immediately examine this bill and its benefits, including expanded health, harm reduction and recovery services, rather than recreating the harmful criminal penalties of the past that have resulted in extreme racial differences, drug overdoses and countless numbers Ruined life.
Are people jailed for simple drug possession released?
In theory, anyone detained for an activity that is no longer a crime should be released immediately. As we saw with the legalization of cannabis, does this happen? Under no circumstance. That said, anyone currently incarcerated in Washington state for simple drug possession should see an attorney immediately and get escaped. I understand that many people in detention may not have the resources to hire a lawyer. Keep your eyes and ears open to see what local legal aid groups are dealing with this issue.
How do police officers react?
The best information we’ve got so far comes from Seattle Times reporter David Kroman, who tweeted this screenshot of the guide the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs sent to its members:
Here is the guide the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs just sent out in response to today’s Supreme Court ruling on the involuntary possession of drugs: pic.twitter.com/D9jt1etdhn
– David Kroman (@KromanDavid) February 26, 2021
How do cops react elsewhere?
By making fun of the judgment. Here is a response from the National Fraternal Police Force:
Credit where credit is due … the whole “These are not my pants !!!” Sorry finally worked.
You can make this stuff up. 🤣🙄https: //t.co/gxIWmyvcoN
– National Fraternal Police Force (FOP) (@GLFOP) February 26, 2021
Is this a permanent change in the law?
Nothing in life is permanent. The court’s ruling sent papers flying into Olympia, where state lawmakers are trying to figure out how to respond. It is unclear whether lawmakers can or will create a legal patch on the part of the original law that the judges found unconstitutional, or whether they would completely rewrite the law, leave the verdict standing and allow the law to dissolve, or Use this as an opportunity to rethink criminal drug possession laws altogether.
Would a patch of law put people back in jail?
Only those who break the law after the new legal language has been passed by the legislature can be arrested and prosecuted. Those freed or dropped because of yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling cannot be arrested again and jailed for their previous offense if a new law is passed.
How did this decision come about?
The verdict comes from a 2016 Spokane case. That year the police carried out a search warrant to obtain evidence of stolen vehicles. In the process of executing this warrant, they arrested three people, including a woman named Shannon Blake. During processing at the local prison, officials claim they discovered a small bag of meth in Blake’s jeans pocket. She was charged with substance abuse.
During her trial, Blake claimed she didn’t know the meth was in her possession. She said a friend bought the jeans secondhand and gave them to her two days before Blake’s arrest. She said she never used meth and didn’t know the drugs were in her pocket. (Earlier this week the Seattle Times published a story about a woman who bought a crochet kit from a local goodwill store and found a packet of cocaine in it, so that defense isn’t as far-fetched as it seems.)
When Washington state law was written, Blake’s deliberate intention to possess the meth didn’t matter. She had it in her possession, was prosecuted and went to jail.
Fast forward through five year appeals. “The crucial limit at issue here,” ruled a majority of the judges on Thursday, “is that the protection of due process” generally prevents state legislation from accepting innocent and passive behavior without criminal intent and making it serious Punish crimes. ”
Conclusion: The court ruled that “the harsh penalties of criminal conviction, lengthy incarceration, stigma and the many collateral consequences that accompany any conviction of a crime of completely innocent and passive conduct are beyond the powers of the legislature. “That particular drug possession law is now void.
Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.
Show article by Bruce Barcott