Legislators, SPD discuss solutions to Washington drug possession laws

SPOKANE, Wash. — The race is on to find new ways to fight the drug epidemic sweeping Washington.

Police say the current drug laws in place are killing people, pleading with legislators to change how we approach drug possession and use.

State Senator Andy Billig hosted a meeting Wednesday night to discuss drug laws within the state, gather feedback on the issue, and propose solutions.

READ: Sen. Billig hosting state drug law meeting Wednesday at Central Library in Spokane

Current laws in place are set to expire next year, and the state is struggling to strike a balance when it comes to treatment and prosecution for drugs.

Washington’s State Supreme Court changed the game on drugs last year in Washington v. Blake. Legal experts say the ruling ultimately decriminalized drug possession.

“I’m concerned about those who are addicted I’m more concerned about the impact and the damage I’ve seen in this

community,” said Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl.

State lawmakers quickly came up with a way to re-criminalize drugs after the ruling, but police say that fix isn’t working.

“When it comes to the use of hard drugs, for some reason it seems like we are allowing people to slowly kill themselves,” Meidl said.

Experts laid out a variety of possible solutions in the meeting. Such as whether to criminalize or decriminalize drug possession.

Rep. Mike Volz said drug possession needs the felony statute, which was rolled back last year.

“Without the carrot and the stick, I think it makes it very hard to have a positive impact and you can call it tough love or whatever,” Rep. Volz said. “But, I think at some level there needs to be a heavier penalty.”

Now, people who are found possessing drugs are offered services at least twice before being charged.

Other solutions brought up at the meeting include making knowing possession a felony, which is similar to before the Blake Decision.

One other example given was to keep the current framework of the law with the two referrals, but add incentives and or consequences to increase the chances the referrals are acted upon so they can be better tracked.

“We can figure out a solution that is good for the community in terms of public safety, but also good for individuals to help them on the road to recovery, because we know that the reason people are in possession of drugs is because substance abuse is a health issue, so we need a criminal justice approach but we also have a health approach to the solution,” Sen. Billig said.

Public defender Francis Adewale says his clients struggle to get into housing after completion of treatment.

“In this community we have to connect completion of treatment with housing,” Adewale said. “If there’s anything we don’t track, this, we don’t. We just think of treatment as a magic wand.”

Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl said overdoses were up 285 percent last year and property crimes are skyrocketing because of substance abuse, now up 25 percent.

“We’re seeing folks coming to and from work or who are driving around with their kids and their seeing someone pull down their drawers in the middle of the street and use the sidewalk as a bathroom,” Meidl said.

Lawmakers and community leaders are still working to find a solution.

Drug possession will remain a major topic in the upcoming legislative session, and if no action is taken, it will go back to being decriminalized next July.

READ: Spokane woman to spend 4 years in federal prison for mailing drugs, identity theft