Drug possession would no longer be a felony in Washington state, under a bill being considered in the state House.
Possessing one ounce or less of a controlled substance would become simple misdemeanor. The maximum penalty for drug possession now, as a Class C felony, is five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. House Bill 1024 would reduce penalties to a maximum of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Rep. Sherry Appleton, Poulsbo Democrat and prime sponsor of the bill, told a House committee Friday that reducing the charge would save the state millions and allow offenders to move on without the barrier of a felony. “We’re still going to hold people accountable,” she said.
A felony makes it difficult for offenders to find jobs, housing and more, Mary Clare Kersten of Sensible Washington told the committee. “Addiction is a illness and it should rightfully be combated with treatment instead of punishment,” she said. “A felony is a label we can’t shed,” she said.
Some worry the bill would encourage addiction. James McMahan Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs said the measure sends the wrong message. “It’s probably time we send the message ‘it’s OK to be sober,’ ” he said.
Appleton says reducing the charge would save the state in prison costs that could be used to fund education and other priorities. Candice Bock says some of that cost would land on cities — about $4.5 million next year.
Voters in California approved a similar measure last year. Lawmakers here tried to pass a similar bill last session, but it did not make it out of the same House committee.