State Sen. Brad Hawkins issued the following statement on the passage of the bipartisan drug possession legislation, Senate Bill 5536.
“I’m thankful to Governor Inslee for calling this special session because Washington needed to establish a statewide framework for drug possession. Clarifying our drug possession law was one of the most important issues of the year for lawmakers, so I’m grateful that we found a way to achieve a bipartisan compromise, even if it required a special session.
“As it relates to the special session process, I would have preferred a 48-hour waiting period between the time the compromise proposal was made public and any legislative vote. This would have provided the public more opportunities to review the proposal and provide comments. While I have been receiving briefings over the past several days, I struggled with the push to bring this latest version to a vote so quickly, but I can appreciate the need to secure final passage before a compromise potentially unravels.
“I had been undecided on the compromise over the past several days but have come to appreciate its similarities to what the Senate approved in March. I supported that version of the bill, and this version is similar in structure. After much thought and consideration, I came to realize that not passing this bill could lead to less desirable options, which include legislators extending the temporary law beyond July 1 or having no statewide framework for drug possession. Neither of those is a good option.
“What is most important for us all to realize is that people across our state are struggling with personal drug use. In many cases, they are not only endangering themselves but also destroying their families and impacting others. We need to reverse this harmful trend. Having compassionate options as well as necessary penalties are important to getting people the help they need.
“The bill approved attempts to balance compassion and accountability while providing funding supports in a variety of areas. I hope it is successful.”
A 2021 State Supreme Court ruling struck down Washington’s felony drug possession statute as unconstitutional. Legislators approved a temporary measure later that year to classify drug possession as a misdemeanor while working toward a more comprehensive solution. On March 3, the Washington State Senate approved Senate Bill 5536.
It represented the first major step this year to address a temporary drug possession law that expires July 1, 2023. Sen. Hawkins voted in favor of the proposal, but that version of the bill was not supported in the House, primarily due to opposition by progressive House Democrats opposed to strong penalties for personal drug use. The 105-day Legislative session adjourned April 23 without a bill to replace the short-term fix, established in 2021.
Governor Inslee called a Special Session of the Legislature to begin May 16. Bipartisan legislators in both the House and Senate continued their communications over the past several days with their colleagues and key stakeholder groups, leading to today’s votes.