Statement from Rep. Peter Abbarno on passage of new drug possession law

Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, released the following statement today after the Legislature passed a new version of Senate Bill 5536, a measure to criminalize possession of controlled substances.      

“This measure strikes a balance between accountability and compassion. And while it may not have all the hallmarks of a comprehensive criminal justice or substance abuse bill, it provides sufficient flexibility to the criminal justice system, as well as substance abuse and mental health providers, to adequately address community concerns with crime and drug use. 

“Our state’s failure to curb drug-related crimes didn’t begin with the Blake decision. This problem was years in the making and was the result of misguided policies and a lack of leadership. Going forward, we need smart investments in workforce and infrastructure to provide effective treatment and hold offenders accountable. Washingtonians expect and deserve better.”

Background: In February 2021, the state Supreme Court ruled in State v. Blake that Washington’s felony drug-possession statute was unconstitutional because it criminalized possession even when a person did not knowingly have drugs.

Two months later, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 5476, a temporary measure reducing the penalty for possessing illegal drugs like fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine from a felony to a misdemeanor. That law was set to expire on July 1, 2023.

On the final day of the regular session, April 23, the majority party in the House brought up a measure to address the issue, Senate Bill 5536, for a vote. The bill fell seven votes short of a majority: 43-55.

Without a new law, Washington state would have no statewide criminal penalty for possession of controlled substances.

On May 2, Gov. Jay Inslee announced plans to call the Legislature into a May 16 special session for the purpose of passing a new drug possession law.


Washington State House Republican Communications