Why is Washington legalizing hard drugs on July 1? Blame Inslee and bickering House Democrats

Why is Washington legalizing hard drugs on July 1? Blame Inslee and bickering House Democrats

Possession of hard drugs such as methamphetamine, fentanyl, cocaine, and heroin is set to become legal in Washington on July 1. 

Washington state lawmakers have had the power to avoid this catastrophe for two years. But time is running out. 

Gov. Jay Inslee and Democratic House Speaker Laurie Jinkins now face just two months and no legislative days on the calendar before the floodgates open. And their actions thus far give families little reason to hope for a serious solution before summer. 

How did it come to this?

In February 2021, the State v. Blake decision effectively legalized the possession of hard drugs, beginning July 1, 2023. 

Not long after that ruling, Washington lawmakers passed a legislative “fix” making possession of hard drugs a misdemeanor, but only after two pre-arrest “referrals.” That bill was ineffective, with overdose deaths skyrocketing statewide. The surge in fentanyl-related deaths was so severe that the King County Medical Examiner’s Office in January was struggling to find enough space to store dead bodies. The bill was also temporary and is set to expire June 30. 

More encouragingly, the state Senate passed Senate Bill 5536 earlier this year with bipartisan support. The bill would increase the penalty for possession of hard drugs – making it a gross misdemeanor. 

But a House committee amended the bill to make the punishment a simple misdemeanor, and added a disastrous “preemption” clause. This clause would ban Washington local governments from passing commonsense rules like making public use of hard drugs an arrestable offense, as the Bellingham City Council has done (lawmakers in Seattle and Everett are now pushing for similar laws too).

After the changes, Republicans withdrew their support and Jinkins was left with egg on her face when she couldn’t glean enough votes from her fractured caucus to pass the bill, many of whom have advocated for full drug legalization.

Because this was so poorly handled, even the parts of the bill with widespread support, such as more funding for drug treatment, were thrown out with the bathwater.

Lawmakers have had two years to address the Blake ruling, yet have nothing to show for it. 

Even going back to his State of the State address in January, Gov. Inslee made no mention of the impending deadline and urgency to pass a bill on hard drugs. His lack of leadership on this issue has changed little since then, content to staying on the sidelines as lawmakers balked and stalled, leaving this to develop into a crisis. 

He even referred to this as an “extraordinary session” and has yet to send lawmakers back to Olympia to pass a bill. He’s still waiting on legislators to “deliver” a solution. He did this with a straight face.

As the death tolls continue to mount, and the July 1st deadline is just weeks away, its galling and tragic that we can’t seem to find a political leader willing to take initiative on this and get something done to protect our communities and help those in desperate need.  

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