Legislation to Defelonize Personal Drug Possession to be Prefiled in December, 2014

May 28, 2014

This December, legislation will be prefiled in the Washington State Legislature to remove felony charges for the the personal possession of illegal substances. Identical to House Bill 2116, a proposal introduced by Sensible Washington in the last legislative session, the measure will be sponsored by Representative Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo) in the House and will have multiple cosponsors in both the House and Senate.

Under current Washington State law, the possession of any controlled substance, even a minuscule amount, is a class C felony with a potential 5-year prison sentence. The exception is cannabis, with up to 28 grams not being a crime for those 21 and over, and between 28 and 40 grams being a misdemeanor. However, if someone possesses 41 or more grams, they’re committing the same class C felony.

The upcoming proposal will reduce the charge associated with the personal possession of illegal substances to a standard (non-gross) 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.

According to an official fiscal note for House Bill 2116, the defelonization of personal drug possession would affect over 9,000 cases annually, and would save the state millions of dollars. This would free up prison space, increase the state’s budget, and put an end to the negative harms associated with giving felony charges to nonviolent drug offenders, which permanently diminishes their ability to gain proper housing, work and education, leading many to a life of crime simply to get by.

In January, House Bill 2116 received a public hearing in the House Public Safety Committee, with not a single person or organization speaking in opposition. Although the measure received sufficient support to advance, 45th District Representative Roger Goodman (D), chair of that committee, made the decision to postpone a vote until 2015 in order to build further support for the measure.

Multiple lawmakers, including Representatives Jim Moeller (Deputy Speaker of the House), Joe Fitzgibbon (Chair, House Environment Committee), Gerry Pollet (Vice Chair, Higher Education Committee) and Senator Jeannie Kohl-Welles, have signed on as official cosponsors for the upcoming measure, which will be prefiled in December for the 2015 session in January. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) a coalition of thousands of current and former law enforcement officials, has officially endorsed the effort, as has Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Washington CURE.

“The defelonization of controlled-substance possession makes sense on so many levels”, says former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, a supporter of Sensible Washington’s effort. “It accomplishes an important public safety objective without jeopardizing an individual’s future earning power, voting rights, or other freedoms.”

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