Reps. Griffey and Couture: House-passed Blake bill another example of majority getting it wrong on criminal justice reforms

On Wednesday, the Washington State House of Representatives approved a rewritten version of the long-awaited Blake fix – one of the final steps in creating the state’s new long-awaited drug possession policy. The bill passed 54-41 after being heavily amended in the House Community Safety, Justice, and Reentry Committee.

The striking amendment to Senate Bill 5536 would provide softer penalties than the original bill that sought to classify knowing possession of drugs as a gross misdemeanor. A misdemeanor is punishable by up to 90-days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, while the maximum punishment for a gross misdemeanor is 364 days in jail and a fine of up to $5,000. The gross misdemeanor was the “stick” of the carrot and stick approach law enforcement and Republicans have been lobbying for since the state Supreme Court’s 2021 Blake decision invalidated Washington’s drug possession law.

“This policy will lead to more people dying on our streets,” said Rep. Dan Griffey, R-Allyn. “It’s as if everyone in the majority party has blinders on and does not see what is happening in our state. This bill lacks the ‘stick’ we need to get people into treatment and appears to remove the ability of local jurisdictions to do so on their own.”

“I hope I am wrong. I hope that we can actually help the people suffering on our streets,” added Griffey. “Unfortunately, I don’t believe this bill is enough.”

“The state’s drug policy is a complete failure,” said Rep. Travis Couture, R-Allyn. “Drug use, overdose deaths, and homelessness are all on the rise, yet this bill is a continuation of the status quo. This is not a serious attempt to address the problems plaguing our communities.”

Both lawmakers criticized the major rewrite the bill got in the House Community Safety, Justice, and Reentry Committee after the bill left the Senate.

“There was an agreement with three of the four caucus leaders on the highly worked, bipartisan bill that left the Senate,” said Griffey. “The majority party in the House took it upon themselves to blow that up.”

“Once again, there is no accountability,” added Couture.

“What this bill will do is lead to more open-air drug use with little consequences,” said Couture. “Tragically, our kids are becoming accustomed to witnessing the slow-motion death and drug abuse on the way to school, at the grocery store, and near parks.”    

While Griffey likes the idea of the 23-hour crisis centers being set up across the state, they’re currently not available.  

 “The intent of this bill to shift the way we approach substance use disorder in this state is well-meaning,” said Griffey. “Unfortunately, we do not have – nor does this bill provide – the resources necessary to do half of what it intends to with treatment.”

Griffey and Couture point to the data.

“In 2016, the governor formed a task force to come up with strategies to address the opioid crisis and curb rising overdose deaths,” said Griffey. “Since then, overdose deaths have more than doubled.”

In 2016, Washington state reported 1,033 overdose deaths. In 2022, that number had jumped to nearly 2,500, according to the state Department of Health.

“Those numbers tell the story,” said Couture. “The majority party’s policies are making the problem worse. A simple misdemeanor has a penalty of up to 90 days, versus 364 days for a gross misdemeanor that three-fourths of the legislature wanted. Those days are critical to be able to divert people to behavioral health treatment facilities, which are completely overrun with cases and even harder to access in rural counties. People suffering, and our citizens deserve better.

The Substance Use Recovery Services Advisory Committee (SURSAC) recommendations and background can be found here

2022 DOH monthly overdose data

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Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov