Dear friends and neighbors,
One of our most important tasks this session was to address our state’s drug possession laws. As you know, the Washington Supreme Court struck down our existing drug possession law in 2021, effectively decriminalizing drug possession statewide. In response, the Legislature enacted a temporary measure to avoid that outcome which was due to expire in July of this year. At that time, we also established the Substance Use Recovery Services Advisory Committee to gather more information and provide recommendations for a permanent solution.
During this year’s regular session, both the House and Senate passed versions of Senate Bill 5536 to address our drug possession laws and the Court’s decision in Blake, but neither were able to pass the opposite chamber. But both chambers had the same goal: finding a bipartisan solution that will help keep our communities safe while ensuring those with substance use disorder have access to the treatment they need. On May 16, the Legislature reconvened for a special one-day session to pass a final compromise version of Senate Bill 5536.
While it’s not a perfect solution, we believe the final bipartisan compromise we passed meets that goal while incorporating feedback from cities, counties, prosecutors and defense attorneys, public health experts, those with lived experience, and law enforcement. It prioritizes treatment while giving some much-needed flexibility for law enforcement and prosecutors to intervene.
What does Senate Bill 5536 do?
At the highest level, the bill defines the crime of possession and establishes a crime for public drug use—helping our communities feel safer in public spaces like parks. The bill also provides diversion options for those struggling with substance use disorder so that they can receive the treatment they need on the road to recovery. Together, we believe the bill provides effective accountability, human connection, and access to treatment support & services.
Community Engagement and Care Resources
We know providing treatment services and support when and where people need it most makes recovery possible. This new law builds upon some of the work we’ve already started to provide comprehensive behavioral services in every community in our state, including:
- Health Engagement Hubs: all-in-one facilities that offer high-quality medical care, as well as connecting patients with housing, treatment, and transportation services.
- 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: an expanded hotline for those in mental and behavioral health crises who need immediate assistance.
- Designated Crisis Responders: additional responders to work alongside law enforcement to help determine if someone presents a harm to themselves or others.
The truth is our family members, friends, and neighbors are suffering right now. Substance use disorder, along with our larger behavioral health crisis, is affecting every community in our state. Although there is much more work to be done, we believe this bipartisan compromise is an important step toward creating accountability through community engagement while offering hope to those who are struggling.
We’ll keep you updated on this issue as we continue to work on it in the months and years to come. As always, if you need additional information, have comments or feedback, please contact our offices.