Legislators in Washington state are weighing their options after a Supreme Court ruling annulled the state’s law that criminalizes drug possession.
Of the many initiatives that have been introduced in response to the court’s February decision, it appears that Senate Bill 5476 will most likely be advanced before the end of the legislative session on April 25. If the bill passes, it would represent a shift toward a public health approach to substance use and abuse and away from the punitive war on drugs.
Under the bill, the possession of “smaller” personal use amounts of controlled substances by individuals aged 21 and older will still be decriminalized. Individuals found with any substances in these amounts or less may be referred to treatment and evaluation but will not be subject to any civil or criminal penalties. This statute has been adopted from Oregon’s decriminalization law, which was approved by voters during the November elections.
However, any individuals found using or opening controlled substances in public will be subjected to a $125 civil fine, which will be used to help cover administrative costs resulting from the abrupt decriminalization of these substances in the state. Additionally, the legislation would reinstate criminal charges for adults found with more than the small amounts stipulated as personal use in the bill. While individuals under 21 who are convicted of possession may be charged with a gross misdemeanor, those above 21 found with amounts exceeding personal use may be subject to a Class C felony.
The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Manka Dhingra, stated at the Senate Ways and Means Committee hearing that the outcome of the state vs. Blake case was unexpected, noting that within hours after the ruling had been given, police departments across the state had reported that they would stop arrests for drug possession immediately. This was soon followed by prosecutors filing orders vacating past convictions and dropping ongoing cases.
Meanwhile, voters in the state appear to be supportive of decriminalization, judging from a statewide poll commissioned by advocates. Only 35% of those surveyed revealed that they would prefer to return to the past system while 59% stated that legislators should use the court’s ruling to replace past drug possession legislations with more efficacious addiction and treatment alternatives.
Additionally, the poll found that 73% of voters in the state thought that the state’s approach to problematic drug use was generally a failure while 18% percent admitted to being unsure; only 9% referred to the state’s approach as a success.
As Washington state considers its proposed drug decriminalization bill, other jurisdictions are already registering success stories from the legalization of marijuana. Pac Roots Cannabis Corp. (CSE: PACR) (OTCQB: PACRF) (FSE: 4XM) is one example of a success story that the cannabis sector in Canada is proud of.
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