Early this year, the Washington Supreme Court’s historic ruling on drug possession shook up the state’s legal system. In the court’s 5-4 decision in the State of Washington v. Blake, justices ruled that criminalizing unwitting drug possession is unconstitutional because unwitting possession is victimless and therefore not a crime. Since February, the ruling has resulted in the vacation of hundreds of cases – a significant step forward that gives people second chances in life.
The legislature responds
In April, the state legislature responded to the high court’s ruling by re-criminalizing low-level possession as a misdemeanor. Local jurisdictions are now required to provide drug users with treatment options. Officers are to divert violators of the new law for assessment and treatment for the first two violations.
For a third or subsequent violation, officers can refer the person for prosecution that can result in a conviction and punishment that includes a fine or rehabilitation evaluation.
The governor’s offer
Gov. Jay Inslee recently said he’s willing to commute up to approximately 1,200 sentences for drug possession in accordance with the court’s February ruling.
The governor’s statement is widely interpreted as an attempt to ease the financial burden on counties and cities that might have to retry an unclear number of past cases.
The governor’s office said about 1,200 people across the state are serving drug possession sentences where the charges were invalidated by the Supreme Court’s Blake ruling.
Inslee says he’s willing to issue unconditional commutations for those eligible, meaning all outstanding fines will be forgiven and all supervision halted.
It should be noted that the Center Square reports that the American Equity and Justice Group has determined with an analysis of 20 years of caseload data that Black people were nearly five times more likely to be convicted of drug possession than white people.