Multiple bills have flooded the state legislature to reclassify drug possession — including fentanyl — as a felony offense.
SB 5536, coined as the Robinson Bill, makes knowing possession of a counterfeit or controlled substance a gross misdemeanor and makes knowing possession of an FDA-approved drug a misdemeanor.
SB 5467, known as the Salomon Bill, voices similar language compared to SB 5536, with a provision that states when law enforcement issues a citation for a violation, no warrant may be issued for failure to appear at the arraignment unless the person was served with the notice of the hearing.
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“Now I actually prefer the 36 because it repeals that whole ridiculous thing about two prior referrals, the two prior warnings. We’ve been in a state of de facto legalization of hard drugs,” said Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell on KIRO Newsradio. “But I also liked the idea that, if charged with a simple possession of some sort of controlled substance, if they complete treatment, then the charge would be dismissed.”
Under current Washington state law, it takes three drug possession arrests to get charged with a crime, and it is classified as a misdemeanor.
“From an enforcement standpoint, you’ve got people being able to use drugs with no enforcement mechanism at all, they’re on the side of the road or out in public, and it’s just ridiculous,” Ferrell said. “We’ve also got car theft in Federal Way as a result of a lot of different policies. It has gone up dramatically in the past year and a half, and a lot of burglaries and robberies are to fuel drug habits. So that’s really where we’ve seen a dramatic increase in crime.”
On Feb. 25, 2021, the Washington Supreme Court issued a decision declaring the state’s main drug possession statute unconstitutional in a case known as State v. Blake. In 2016, Shannon Blake was arrested in Spokane for simple drug possession, but Blake argued that she did not know there was a baggie of methamphetamine in the jeans she had received from a friend.
According to the Addictions, Drug, and Alcohol Institute with the University of Washington, drug cases dropped exponentially following the 2021 Supreme Court decision. After recording nearly 5,500 cases of methamphetamine in 2020, Washington state produced just 1,257 in 2021. From the same stretch of time, heroin cases dropped from 2,574 to 647, cocaine cases dropped from 359 to 154, and even cannabis cases dropped from 456 to 198.
In Spokane County, Sheriff John Nowels used a panel last week to discuss how, on top of everything else, social media apps have increased the difficulty in tracking fentanyl overdoses, according to The Spokesman Review.
“It just ignores the reality of people in the grips of addiction, and what will occur is, you’ve got people that will be using [drugs] in broad daylight across the street from schools in public settings, in which law enforcement will have no opportunity to intercede whatsoever,” Ferrell said. “What that means is people can be literally sitting on a park bench and shooting up heroin or fentanyl out in the open public. I just don’t think that’s what, as a collective society, we have agreed to. That’s surrender, frankly.”
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Amid tackling Federal Way’s ongoing drug crisis, Ferrell, alongside King County Executive Dow Constantine, King County Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer, and Washington Representative Jamila Taylor, broke ground on 334 new units for affordable housing last week in tandem with Multi-Service Center (MSC) and housing developer Shelter Resources (SRI).