Proposal To Make Possession Of Cocaine, Meth A Misdemeanor

Jan 2, 2014

If you’re caught with cocaine, meth or heroin, you can be charged with a felony and face up to five years in prison. But there’s a proposal in Washington, prefiled HB 2116, to make possession of hard drugs a misdemeanor if they are for the defendant's personal use. It would also reduce the penalty for the possession of more than 40 grams of cannabis from a felony to a misdemeanor.

The people pushing the proposal see it as another step in the move to end the “War on Drugs.” Anthony Martinelli with the group Sensible Washington says following on the heels of the state's legalization of marijuana, the time is ripe for a proposal to lessen criminal penalities for the use of hard drugs.

“This would not decriminalize nor legalize any substance; it would still be illegal to possess drugs. It would just be a smaller penalty and it would give judges more leeway to give out treatment rather than incarceration,” he said.

Still, while people may be alright with allowing some pot use, are they ready to take a soft approach to the use of crack cocaine and meth? The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs vows to oppose anything that turns the use of hard drugs into a misdemeanor. And Rep. Christopher Hurst, D-Enumclaw, told KING-TV it would “send a friendly message to drug dealers.”

But King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg says he’s not necessarily opposed to the idea. He says he already uses his own discretion to more or less do the same thing under the current law.

“We let people plead guilty to a gross misdemeanor of attempted possession of drugs. It’s a legal fiction, but it’s something we’ve done for a number of years, and I think it is a good way to resolve these cases when we’re dealing with people who have small amounts or are not dealers,” Satterberg said.

But, the prosecutor says, one of the unintended consequences of the proposal would be that hard drug cases now handled by the counties would be dumped on the cities, which have jurisdiction over misdemeanors.

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes says if something like this passes, it is essential that the cities receive the funding necessary to handle the additional misdemeanor drug cases.