In a shocking decision handed down on Thursday, Feb. 25, the Washington State Supreme Courtroom struck down the state’s elementary legal drug possession legislation.

Police are not arresting individuals for easy drug possession in Washington State. Will that final? Arduous to say.

The legislation in query, RCW 69.50.4013, made mere possession of a managed substance a felony punishable by as much as 5 years in jail—even with out proof the particular person knowingly possessed the drug.

In yesterday’s ruling, a majority of justices concluded that the legislation “exceeds the State’s police energy” and is unconstitutional.

Response to the ruling was swift. Inside hours, the Seattle Police Department announced that its officers would not arrest individuals solely beneath the easy possession legislation. The Washington Affiliation of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs despatched out an advisory stating that “efficient instantly, Washington legislation enforcement officers are not licensed to conduct a legal investigation, impact an arrest, search a search warrant, or take another legislation enforcement motion for easy possession of managed substances.”

Are all medicine now authorized in Washington State? The reply seems to be sure, at the least proper now.

You’ve questions. We’ve solutions. Listed below are essentially the most urgent mysteries which have come out of yesterday’s ruling, answered. Notice: This shouldn’t be thought of skilled authorized recommendation.

Can I purchase the RV and go full-on ‘Breaking Unhealthy’?

Gradual your roll there, Walter. The court docket’s ruling applies solely to easy possession, not gross sales, distribution, legal conspiracy, or any of the myriad actions that may get an individual into hassle with the legislation with regards to non-legal medicine. If a cop finds you cooking meth in a beater Winnebago within the desert, you can be arrested and prosecuted.

So, severely: I can’t be arrested for drug possession?

Cops can arrest you for absolutely anything, as anyone who participated in a protest this previous 12 months can inform you. However in Washington State, legislation enforcement officers have largely suspended all easy drug possession arrests on account of the State Supreme Courtroom ruling.

Is that this like Oregon’s all-drug decriminalization legislation?

Not precisely. But it surely does supply the state Legislature a novel alternative to enact Oregon-style drug decriminalization earlier than residents do it themselves through a statewide voter initiative. The ACLU of Washington advocated for a proposed drug decrim citizen initiative final 12 months, however the effort fell quick as a result of pandemic restrictions on signature collections.

Theshia Naidoo, head of authorized affairs for the Drug Coverage Alliance, famous that there’s already a statewide all-drug decrim invoice beneath critical consideration by legislators in Olympia:

This choice is an ideal dovetail to the drug decriminalization bill shifting by means of the legislature, which has already handed out of committee.  We urge legislators to instantly take into account this invoice and the advantages it will carry, together with expanded well being, hurt discount and restoration providers, slightly than re-enacting the dangerous legal penalties of the previous which have resulted in excessive racial disparities, document drug overdoses, and numerous lives ruined.

Will individuals incarcerated for easy drug possession be let loose?

In principle everybody who’s incarcerated for an exercise that’s not against the law needs to be instantly let loose. As we’ve seen with hashish legalization, does that occur? Hell no. That mentioned, everybody at present incarcerated for easy drug possession in Washington State ought to instantly contact a lawyer and get themselves sprung. I understand many incarcerated individuals could not have the means to rent a lawyer; maintain your eyes and ears open to see which native authorized assist teams rise up and operating on this challenge.

How are cops responding to this?

The most effective data we have now thus far comes from Seattle Instances reporter David Kroman, who tweeted this screenshot of the steerage Washington Affiliation of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs despatched their members:

How are cops elsewhere responding?

By mocking the ruling. Right here’s a response from the Nationwide Fraternal Order of Police:

Is that this a everlasting change within the legislation?

Nothing in life is everlasting. The court docket’s ruling has despatched paper flying in Olympia, the place state legislators are scrambling to determine tips on how to reply. It’s unclear whether or not legislators can or will create a authorized patch over the a part of the unique legislation the justices discovered unconstitutional, or whether or not they’ll rewrite the legislation fully, let the ruling stand and permit the legislation to dissolve, or take this as a chance to rethink legal drug possession legal guidelines altogether.

Would a legislative patch put individuals again in jail?

Solely those that break the legislation after the brand new authorized language is adopted by the Legislature may be arrested and prosecuted. Those that are freed or have their circumstances dropped due to yesterday’s state Supreme Courtroom ruling can’t be re-arrested and re-incarcerated for his or her previous offense if a brand new legislation is adopted.

How did this ruling come about?

The ruling got here out of a 2016 case in Spokane. That 12 months, police executed a search warrant searching for proof of stolen autos. Whereas executing that warrant, they arrested three individuals together with a lady named Shannon Blake. Whereas being processed on the native jail, officers declare to have found a small baggie of meth in Blake’s denims pocket. She was charged with felony drug possession.

Throughout her trial, Blake claimed she didn’t know the meth was in her possession. She mentioned a pal purchased the denims secondhand and gave them to her two days earlier than Blake’s arrest. She mentioned she had by no means used meth and didn’t know the medicine have been in her pocket. (Because it occurs, earlier this week the Seattle Times broke a narrative a few girl who purchased a crochet package at an area Goodwill retailer and found a bundle of cocaine inside. So this protection will not be as far-fetched because it might sound.)

Because the Washington State legislation was written, Blake’s aware intent to own the meth didn’t matter. She had it in her possession, was prosecuted, and went to jail.

Quick-forward by means of 5 years of authorized appeals. “The important thing restrict at challenge right here,” a majority of justices dominated on Thursday, is that due course of protections “typically bar state legislatures from taking harmless and passive conduct with no legal intent in any respect and punishing it as a critical crime.”

Conclusion: The court docket dominated that “Attaching the tough penalties of felony conviction, prolonged imprisonment, stigma, and the numerous collateral penalties that accompany each felony drug conviction to thoroughly harmless and passive conduct exceeds the legislature’s powers.” That exact drug possession legislation is now void.

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Bruce Barcott

Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees information, investigations, and have tasks. He’s a Guggenheim Fellow and creator of Weed the Individuals: The Way forward for Authorized Marijuana in America.

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