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The Unsettled Policy Landscape of Drug Possession Laws in Washington

On Feb. 25, the Washington Supreme Court struck down the state’s main drug possession crime in a case called State v. Blake. The ruling meant there was no state law making simple possession of drugs a crime unless the Legislature recriminalized it, which it has now done via passage of Engrossed Senate Bill (ESB) 5476. In the debate over ESB 5476, some stakeholders argued that the Blake decision was an opportunity for Washington to adopt a new approach to substance use disorders based on solutions that heal rather than continue to inflict harm on people and communities. Others advocated for recriminalization. ESB 5476 ended up taking elements of both of these approaches. It provides new statewide planning and resources for substance use services, but also recriminalizes possession.

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