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New Washington state law makes drug possession a misdemeanor

The new law makes simple drug possession in Washington a misdemeanor instead of a felony, but that provision will expire in two years.

OLYMPIA, Wash — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a measure overhauling the state’s approach to drug possession after the Washington Supreme Court struck down its previous law as unconstitutional. 

The new law makes simple drug possession a misdemeanor for now, but that provision expires in two years. It also aims to greatly expand access to treatment and outreach services, earmarking $88.5 million for substance abuse recovery, mental health treatments, therapeutic alternatives to court and stabilization for people experiencing homelessness. 

It also allows Washington courts to hire court commissioners to help amend the sentences of people who were convicted under the statute struck down by the state Supreme Court.

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The court’s decision came in the case of Shannon Blake, a Spokane woman who had received a pair of jeans from a friend that had a small bag of methamphetamine in a pocket. 

A 5-4 majority said the state’s drug possession law was unconstitutional because it did not require prosecutors to prove a defendant knowingly possessed drugs.

The majority of Democrats in Olympia seized on the court’s ruling in February as an opportunity to address some of the harm the war on drugs has caused, especially to communities of color.

After the law was struck down, at least 18 people who were jailed for simple drug possession, had their sentences commuted by Inslee.

Two days later, one of the people released, Randall Taufetee, was arrested for driving at speeds of 120 mph.