Drugs won’t be legal in Washington on July 1. Barely.
Our state got itself into a mess this spring when legislators failed to take action on drugs during the 105-day legislative session. By not working on a fix, Gov. Jay Inslee and bickering House Democrats left the door open for all drugs – including the hardest drugs like meth, heroin and fentanyl – to become legal on July 1. It was a mess that brought national attention to Washington as lives hang in the balance.
A special (one-day) legislative session was called to work on the issue, but it left Washingtonians with more questions than answers. Gov. Inslee previously said that a plan has to be on the table before any special session could be called, yet that was not the case. In fact, no details were provided to the public about a possible proposal until just hours before lawmakers met to vote on it today, May 16th.
Now, a solution has been reached (SB 5536), but there is still a lot of work to be done. While this special session prevented things from getting significantly worse, it does not solve the problem. And the status quo is not working for Washington.
House Republicans issued several demands in an open letter on April 29, among those that the bill would need to reign in so-called “harm reeducation” policies and remove preemption clauses that prevent local government from enacting any drug prevention policies of their own. That last part is particularly important, because cities and counties have been passing policies in droves since lawmakers failed to do anything during their regular legislative session.
It seems like they got, as well as Senate Republicans, most of what they wanted – although the penalties for possession of hard drugs are now tantamount to a slap on the wrist. Make no mistake: there is nothing compassionate about letting people kill themselves with drugs because lawmakers are too afraid of punishing dangerous behavior. Sometimes, the most compassionate answer involves both treatment and jail time.
Drug use is an epidemic in the state. People use drugs openly and live in tent villages that support their addiction. They can be seen on the streets with their flesh rotting. And this is happening in areas that were once clean and safe, where you could walk with your family without hesitation, just a few short years ago.
Will this compromise deal make the situation significantly better? No.
Is it better than what would have happened if nothing were done? Yes, but that would effectively have been pouring gasoline on the fire. Maintaining the status quo is not good enough.
Still, there are opportunities for county and municipal governments to lead the way here. While Olympia seems disinterested, or hostile to, any actual solutions, local governments still have the freedom to find innovative solutions to the root causes of this problem. This empowers citizens to connect with their local officials about these causes, such as mental illness and insufficient treatment programs.
The work is far from over. We’ll be watching this issue closely and keeping you informed.