WA: County to consider scheduling a Public Hearing on ordinance to re-criminalize illegal drugs

At its upcoming Administrative Meeting on Tuesday, May 2, the Snohomish County Council is expected to vote on scheduling a Public Hearing for May 17 to propose an ordinance re-criminalizing controlled and counterfeit substances.

The ordinance, sponsored by Council President Jared Mead and Council Vice President Nate Nehring, is in response to the passage of SB-5476 in 2021 that contains a sunset provision to Washington State’s penalties for control substances and the state legislature’s failure by the end of the 2023 Legislative Session to address the state Supreme Court’s 2021 Blake decision.

“The scourge of deadly drugs on our streets is among the most pressing public safety issues our communities face,” Councilman Nehring wrote in a press release announcing the proposed ordinance. “I look forward to working with my colleagues at Snohomish County to adopt reasonable regulations which lead with compassion and emphasize treatment while also holding individuals accountable for their actions.”

The 5-4 decision by the Washington State Supreme Court in 2021 stated that  RCW 69.50.4013(1) – the statute that criminalized the possession of a controlled substance without a prescription – did not include “an intent requirement” and hence also violated the requirement for uniform interpretation of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act among the states, ruling the entire statute unconstitutional

Therefore, to correct this, a mens rea element, “knowingly” was added to the statutes pertaining to possession of a controlled substance, possession of a counterfeit substance, and possession of a legend drug.

SB-5536, also known as the “Blake Fix,” concerning controlled substances, counterfeit substances, and legend drug possession and treatment, passed the Senate on March 3. On April 11, the House amended the Senate’s version. However, the Senate refused to go along with the weaker House version of the bill in a concurrence on April 21. Negotiators from the House and Senate chambers emerged with a new proposal Saturday evening that was rejected by the House on April 23, by a 43-55 vote.

Without legislative action by either the State or local jurisdictions, possession of controlled substances will be legal come July 1, 2023. The proposed County ordinance would make it illegal to have possession of, or use in public, controlled substances, counterfeit substances, or legend drugs in unincorporated Snohomish County. The penalty for these illegal actions, if passed, will be a gross misdemeanor, however the legislation strongly encourages alternatives be offered in lieu of arrest and/or prosecution.

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Tags: Decriminalization Opioid Crisis

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