Rep. Spencer Hutchins votes yes on new drug possession bill, calls for more bipartisanship in legislative process

After failing to pass a so-called “Blake fix” bill in the regular 105-day 2023 legislative session to address drug possession laws, state lawmakers reconvened Tuesday for a single-day special session. They were able to get a new bill across the finish line.

Rep. Spencer Hutchins, R-Gig Harbor, was among the 83 House members to vote for the bill.

“Failure to pass a meaningful, bipartisan drug possession law would have been unacceptable,” said Hutchins. “It would have led to effectively legalizing all drugs across our state. The horrific scourge of drugs we see in our communities would have worsened and led to more people dying from overdoses. This was an important step in the right direction.”

The bill passed during the special session resulted from intense bipartisan negotiations among legislators of both parties in the House and Senate held from the moment the regular session ended until the Tuesday vote. Hutchins expressed frustration that substantive bipartisan work began only at the last minute.

“Everyone knew when the Legislature convened for the regular session back in January that a fix to our drug possession law was a top priority. That was not a surprise. So, there was no reason for the majority party to wait until the last hours of the regular session to bring a one-sided, hyper-partisan bill to the floor, only to be rejected at the last minute. We could have reached a sensible agreement much sooner,” said Hutchins. “This bipartisan negotiation should have happened earlier in the regular session and on more policies than just drug possession. The people of Washington state deserve a legislature that works across the aisle from day one to pass reasonable legislation. That is our job. I am glad we finally got a drug possession bill passed yesterday, but this important bipartisan work should have come much sooner.”

The bill passed during Tuesday’s special session was significantly changed from the version brought to the floor in the final hours of the regular session that ultimately failed after every Republican in the House and 15 Democrats voted against the bill.

Under the failed bill, possession would have also been a gross misdemeanor, but that bill also created a diversion process that would have led to a revolving door of offenses and left prosecutors largely out of the decision-making. The bill also would have blocked local governments from refusing to site needle exchanges in their communities, created health engagement hubs (safe injection sites) for adults and children, and more that led to universal opposition among House Republicans.

Under the bill passed Tuesday:

  • Possession and public use are modified to a gross misdemeanor. It caps the maximum penalty for possession or public use at 180 days in jail for the first two convictions and 364 days for the third and subsequent convictions. In addition:
    • Greater prosecutorial control of subsequent diversions to hold criminals accountable.
    • Flexibility to the court and prosecutor to fashion appropriate consequences for knowing possession, knowing use in a public space, and allows for charges of other crimes in addition to possession and use crimes.
  • The bill allows cities, towns, and counties to enact laws/ordinances relating to the establishment or regulation of harm reduction services/needle exchanges.

“I believe we passed a bill yesterday that correctly balances accountability and compassion. It is not perfect, but it is miles ahead of what we saw on the final day of the session and a huge improvement over what we have had for the past two years under the temporary Blake fix that has led to the awful scenes we now see on our streets across the state,” said Hutchins. “Hopefully, we will continue to build on this in years to come.”

Governor Inslee signed Senate Bill 5536 Tuesday shortly after lawmakers passed the bill. It takes effect July 1. 2023.


Washington State House Republican Communications