Local representatives support bill removing drug possession as a felony in Washington State

Rep. Luis Moscoso of the 1st District and Rep. Jessyn Farrell of the 46th District have announced their support for a proposed House Bill to defelonize drug possession. The bill was filed on Dec. 8 by Rep. Sherry Appleton.

Rep. Luis Moscoso of the 1st District and Rep. Jessyn Farrell of the 46th District have announced their support for a proposed House Bill to remove drug possession as a felony. The bill was filed on Dec. 8 by Rep. Sherry Appleton.

The bill would remove any felony charges for the personal possession of illegal substances and reduce the charges to a misdemeanor if passed by legislature.

The intention is that the state could save a significant amount of money each year, from the approximate 9,000 non-violent drug felony arrests to freeing up space within the prison system.

“Defelonizing personal drug possession is a smart, pragmatic approach to reducing the harms associated with the drug war,” said Farrell, who represents Kenmore residents in Olympia. “The move would reduce incarceration, save the state millions of dollars, and prevent thousands of individuals from receiving a permanent and costly felony record.”

Other local representatives are looking to cosponsor the bill, but have yet to officially do so.

I expect to cosponsor the bill to change possession of controlled substances a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Mere possession should not be a felony,” said Rep. Gerry Pollet of the 46th Legislative District. “Most controlled substance arrestees also have mental health issues – and, most mental health holds for evaluations are for people with substance abuse problems. We need to provide mental health treatment coupled with expanding our programs to treat and prevent substance abuse.”

The Reporter did not receive a reply from Moscoso, who represents Bothell and Kirkland residents in Olympia, for comment prior to press time.

The bill is supported by many members of law enforcement, including Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), an organization of current and retired law enforcement professionals, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Washington CURE, and the ACLU of Washington.

According to the bill’s text crimes such as manufacturing, possession of large amounts, and dealing drugs will still be illegal under the proposed law.

The big departure from the current law on the books is possessing small amounts of a substance prohibited under the Controlled Substance Act, including heroin, methamphetamines, or cocaine, wouldn’t be a felony; merely a misdemeanor.

Misdemeanors in Washington can include punishment of up to 90 days in jail, up to a $1,000 fine, or both. On top of the initial misdemeanor punishments, violation of the Uniform Controlled Substance Act (UCSA) includes a minimum penalty of no less than 24 hours imprisonment and a fine of no less than $250.

The defelonization does not equal decriminalization, such as what marijuana recently went through. What it does mean, though, is thousands of users won’t be clogging the justice system.

“If we can do something right now, today, that avoids unnecessarily ruining one more otherwise-productive citizen’s life, we should do so without delay,” Appleton said. “Additionally, the state is currently facing unprecedented financial pressures…every dime counts more than ever. Why should we continue to pour millions of dollars into something that is an acknowledged failure, something that actually harms our economy in a number of ways, when those scant resources are needed for recognized priorities?”

This isn’t the first time that Washington State has attempted to defelonize controlled substances. Back in 2014, House Bill 2116 would have defelonized drug possession but not drug manufacturing, dealing, or possession of large amounts. That bill was not successfully passed even though no one testified against it.

The other issue this bill faces is a divided legislature, but there are merits of this bill that both democrats and republicans support.

“I believe this bill speaks to folks on both sides of the aisle – conservatives will appreciate the revenues saved by reducing sentences, while folks on my side of the aisle will hopefully see this as a good first step towards fixing what the War on Drugs has done to our country,” Farrell said.