Legislators to return to State Capitol to address state’s drug possession law

Hawkins Capitol

May 12, 2023

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

As you may have heard, Governor Jay Inslee Inslee has called a Special Session of the Washington State Legislature, beginning May 16th, to address our state’s expiring drug possession law. In accordance with the State Constitution, the Washington State Legislature meets annually every January in “regular” sessions. The Legislature alternates between longer sessions of 105 days and shorter sessions of 60 days depending on the development of the two-year budgets. The Constitution allows the governor to call “special sessions” of the Legislature at any time. Each session can last no more than 30 days.

Leg Bldg

Governor Jay Inslee has called a special session of the Washington State Legislature to convene on May 16 to resolve the issue related to Washington’s drug possession law that expires July 1.

Uncertainty regarding state’s drug possession law

In 2021, the State Supreme Court’s Blake Decision struck down Washington’s felony drug possession statute as unconstitutional. This court case involved a woman who had been arrested for possession of illegal drugs in her pant pockets, which she said she did not knowingly possess because the pants were borrowed from a friend. In rapid response to this decision and to provide some statewide clarity related to drug possession, legislators approved a temporary measure within weeks to classify drug possession as a misdemeanor while working toward a more comprehensive solution. The temporary law approved in 2021 expires this July. A major focus of the 2023 Legislative Session was to update and replace the temporary law. During this year’s session, the Washington State Senate approved Senate Bill 5536 sponsored by  Sen. June Robinson (D-Everett). It represented the first major step to address and clarify our state’s drug possession law since the temporary law was enacted. Senate Bill 5536 was approved by a Senate vote of 28 to 21 and included a classification of drug possession offenses, steps offenders can take toward pretrial diversion and prosecution, and a collection of state investments toward facilitating treatment and local resources. I voted in favor of the proposal.

Hawkins Floor

Legislators are working to develop a drug possession proposal that can gain sufficient support. Past efforts have been actively debated. I supported Senate Bill 5536, a bipartisan compromise bill, which was approved by a Senate vote of 28 to 21. That version of the bill, however, was changed in the House. A modified version failed to pass the House on the final day of session. To view a summary of the Senate’s bipartisan compromise, click Senate Bill 5536 – Summary.

What happened to Senate Bill 5536?

Senate Bill 5536 was developed throughout the session, approved by Senate committees, and actively negotiated and debated. The Senate vote was bipartisan but also somewhat unusual because a collection of Republicans and Democrats voted for the bill while others joined together to vote against the measure. Generally speaking, very conservative Republicans favored stiffer penalties for drug offenders while very progressive Democrats argued for no punishments. In the end, the compromise included tiered classifications of drug possession offenses, steps offenders can take toward pretrial diversion, and penalty options for prosecutors. The bill also included substantial new state investments to support treatment. While the bipartisan Senate bill appear to balance treatment options with accountability measures and to be the blueprint for full Legislative passage, the House of Representatives later adjusted the bill. That version received only a party-line vote by Democrats on April 11th. House and Senate negotiators attempted to develop a “Conference Committee” solution between the two verisons, but that vote failed in the House on April 23rd on the final day of session by a vote of 43 “yes” to 55 “no.”

Special Session begins May 16th

The Legislature recently completed its 105-day session on schedule on April 23rd. While I’m not eager to return to Olympia, I agree with Governor Inslee’s decision to call a special session to finalize Washington State’s drug possession law. This is one of the most important issues currently before our state, and it’s disappointing that lawmakers did not finalize a solution during our recent 105-day session. I supported the bipartisan Senate Bill 5536 because I felt it struck the right balance between having a helping hand of compassion and a heavier hand of accountability in response to drug possession. I believe a small number of progressive House Democrats refused to support the Senate’s bipartisan compromise, eventually leaving the legislature with nothing at the end of session. Having no statewide framework related to drug possession would be terrible for cities and counties across Washington who would then need to implement a patchwork of their own local drug possession regulations. Our state must achieve something in the special session, and my hope is the final outcome is similar to the bipartisan compromise senators approved several weeks ago. I’ll make sure to keep you updated as the special session progresses.


I recently joined KPQ’s Dave Bernstein to recap the Legislative Session. We discussed state budgeting, police pursuits, drug possession, and more. Click to listen to my KPQ "The Agenda" interview.

Honored to serve you

My position as State Senator exists to serve you. If you have any questions about the drug possession issue or other topics, please contact me at senatorbradhawkins.org. Please call our Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000 if you need immediate assistance at any time. Be sure to like and follow me on Facebook @SenatorBradHawkins for my latest updates. Click here to listen to my recent interview on Dave Bernstein’s show, “The Agenda” on KPQ.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your state senator.



Brad Hawkins

State Senator Brad Hawkins
12th Legislative District

Website: senatorbradhawkins.org

Facebook: @SenatorBradHawkins

203 Legislative Modular Building - P.O. Box 40412 | Olympia, WA 98504-0412
(360) 786-7622 or Toll-free: (800) 562-6000