[Update: House Bill 1024 was filed by Representative Appleton on December 8th.]
Legislation to remove felony charges for the personal possession of illegal substances will be prefiled in the House of Representatives next month by Rep. Sherry Appleton (D, 23rd District). The proposal, which will be identical to House Bill 2116 from the 2014 session, would defelonize personal drug possession, reducing the penalty from a felony, to a misdemeanor.
“Defelonizing personal drug possession is a smart, pragmatic approach to reducing the harms associated with the drug war”, says Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D, 46th District), who will cosponsor the bill. “The move would reduce incarceration, save the state millions of dollars, and prevent thousands of individuals from receiving a permanent and costly felony record.”
Under current Washington State law, the possession of any amount of any controlled substance – other than cannabis – is a class C felony with a potential 5-year prison sentence. For cannabis, up to 28 grams is legal, yet the possession of over 40 grams remains a felony. Defelonization would reduce these charges to a misdemeanor, which has a maximum sentence of 90 days. Charges involving the manufacturing or distribution of illegal substance, and charges involving minors, would remain unaltered.
“Those who are caught with drugs in possession need assessment and treatment – not felony records”, says Rep. Jim Moeller (Speaker Pro Tempore, 49th District), who has been a chemical-dependency counselor at Kaiser Permanente for over 27 years.
According to an official fiscal note for House Bill 2116, defelonizing personal drug possession would affect over 9,000 cases annually. It would free up prison space and would save the state millions of dollars that could be allocated to education, prevention, and treatment programs.
“It is past time for the Legislature to catch up to the public and to the overwhelming body of scientific evidence that shows that the best way to reduce crime and drug use is to take a public health-based approach, not a criminal approach, to fighting the problem”, says Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (Deputy Majority Whip, 34th District), who has also agreed to cosponsor the proposal.
In the recent general election, California voters passed a similar measure, Proposition 47, to defelonize certain drug possession cases and other nonviolent crimes, reducing the sentence to a misdemeanor. Proposition 47 passed with nearly a 20-point margin.
Defelonizing personal drug possession in Washington State is officially supported by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a coalition of thousands of current and former law enforcement officials, as well as Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Washington CURE. Other legislative sponsors include Rep. June Robinson (Assistant Majority Whip, 38th District), Rep. Luis Moscoso (D, 1st District), Rep. Chris Reykdal (D, 22nd District) and Senator Jeannie Kohl-Welles (D, 36th District).