Navigating Washington State's New Drug Possession and Use Law with Senate Bill 5536

A recent development in Washington State’s legal landscape has brought significant changes to the possession and use of drugs. Signed into law on May 16, 2023, Senate Bill 5536 (SB 5536), commonly referred to as the “Blake Fix,” introduces sweeping reforms that impact individuals, law enforcement, and local governments across the state. This bill took effect on July 1, 2023, this legislation addresses the possession and use of prohibited substances, marking a significant departure from previous drug laws in the state.

The passage of Senate Bill 5536 SB 5536 follows a series of legal challenges and legislative efforts aimed at addressing the constitutionality of Washington’s drug possession laws. In February 2021, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in State v. Blake that the state’s strict liability drug possession law was unconstitutional. This decision sparked a period of uncertainty and prompted lawmakers to enact temporary legislation, which was set to expire on July 1, 2023.

With the impending expiration of the temporary measures, the Washington State Legislature faced the task of crafting permanent legislation to address drug possession and use. SB 5536 emerged as the culmination of these efforts, providing a framework for the regulation of prohibited substances and drug paraphernalia.

Key provisions of SB 5536 include:

  1. Gross Misdemeanor Offenses: The bill makes it a gross misdemeanor to knowingly possess counterfeit substances and controlled substances or to knowingly use prohibited substances in a public place. This designation extends to “hard” drugs such as fentanyl, methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine, as well as non-prescribed legend drugs.
  2. Modified Penalties: Under SB 5536, possession and use of prohibited substances are punishable by imprisonment of up to 180 days or a fine of not more than $1,000, or both. Repeat offenders may face increased penalties, with imprisonment of up to 364 days for individuals with two or more prior convictions.
  3. Preemption of Local Regulation: The legislation includes clear preemption language that overrides local regulation of drug paraphernalia. While local governments retain the authority to establish harm reduction services concerning drug paraphernalia, the state fully occupies and preempts the field of drug paraphernalia regulation.
  4. Pretrial Diversion Programs: SB 5536 establishes a pretrial diversion program for individuals charged with simple possession, allowing defendants to engage in treatment programs in exchange for dismissal of charges.
  5. Treatment Facility Designation: Opioid use disorder treatment facilities are classified as essential public facilities, subject to regulations similar to other healthcare settings. Cities and counties are limited in their ability to impose restrictions on these facilities.

In conclusion, SB 5536 represents a significant shift in Washington State’s approach to drug possession and use. By standardizing penalties and regulations, the legislation aims to provide clarity and consistency in enforcement while prioritizing treatment and diversion programs for individuals struggling with substance abuse. As the law took effect on July 1, 2023, stakeholders across the state familiarized themselves with its provisions and adapt to the changing legal landscape.

If you or someone you know is facing legal issues related to drug possession or use, don’t hesitate to seek legal guidance. The Law Office of Erin Bradley McAleer is here to provide expert advice and representation. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and learn how we can help navigate through these challenging legal matters.

Call us today at (360) 334-6277.