On Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced he would call a special session of the Legislature in about two weeks, during which lawmakers will work to set a statewide policy on drug possession.
After a bill making possession a gross misdemeanor (364 days in jail) failed on the House floor in the final hours of the 2023 legislative session, Inslee signaled a plan to gather legislators back together to negotiate a deal. He wanted a statewide bill to avoid a patchwork of drug policy across the state, ranging from decriminalization to a gross misdemeanors not only for simply getting caught with drugs on you but also for getting caught with paraphernalia and using in public.
In a news release Tuesday, Inslee announced the session would begin May 16. He said he was optimistic about passing a bipartisan bill after speaking with legislators from all four caucuses.
State Representative Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) said Monday he expects the Governor to schedule the session for this month. The May date will give lawmakers plenty of time to strike a deal before a stopgap drug possession law expires in July.
If everyone agrees to a deal beforehand, the session should last less than a week, Goodman said. However, he sees a predetermined deal as one of three options. Lawmakers could get close to a deal and need a couple weeks to hammer out the details, or lawmakers could arrive still largely unclear on how to move forward. That third option isn’t likely, he said.
By law, special sessions can last no longer than 30 days.
State Senator Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond) said lawmakers are discussing holding the session remotely, however they need to double-check the rules on that.
Passing a new drug possession law was a priority for the Legislature this session. After the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in State v. Blake that the state’s felony drug law was unconstitutional, lawmakers created a short-term drug possession misdemeanor in 2021 scheduled to sunset in 2023. They built in the law’s expiration date because they wanted to create a more thoughtful drug policy this year, but two years passed and a cohesive plan did not emerge.
Goodman said lawmakers are “still pretty divided” but have a sense of where their differences are.
In the past week, lawmakers had a lot of really great conversations, Dhingra said. She argued they’re close. When a session is called, she said she expects it will last maybe a day or two.