Washington Police Upset About Drug Decriminalization

Washington state law enforcement agencies are releasing responses including guidance and pushback to the state’s Supreme Court ruling last week that effectively decriminalized all drug possession.

Full story after the jump.

Law enforcement agencies throughout Washington state are releasing guidance – and pushing back – following the state Supreme Court decision last week that effectively decriminalized all drug possession in the state.

The decision ruled that state’s felony drug possession law unconstitutional and, following the decision, the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (WAPA) said “police officers must immediately stop making arrests or issuing citations for simple possession of drugs,” according to an email published by the Post Millennial.

“No search warrants. No detentions upon suspicion of simple possession awaiting canine units, etc. You will need to advise your officers as to whether officers should still seize the unlawful drugs as contraband or leave them in the possession of the individual.” – Pam Loginsky, staff attorney for WAPA, via the Post Millennial.

Lawmakers have introduced a bill they believe would make the drug possession statute constitutional – by simply adding “knowingly” to the language of the law, KOMO News reports.

Democratic state Sen. Steve Hobbs said in an interview with KOMO following the ruling that the legislature has “to fix [the law] right away.”

“Right now, you can have controlled substances and not get arrested. It’s kind of crazy,” Hobbs told KOMO. “I know several states have gone through this very problem before and now it’s our turn.”

In a February 27 statement, the Renton Police Department CPC Cyndie Morris said the ruling “takes effect immediately and will also impact previous arrests and prosecutions.”

“I wanted you to be aware of the new constraints that our officers must now work under and ask for your understanding,” the statement says. “The safety and well-being of our community continues to be our top priority, but as you can imagine this recent ruling will have a dramatic effect on our community.”

In a Facebook post, Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney appeared to mock the Supreme Court Justices, saying the High Court “actually bought off on the ‘THESE AREN’T MY PANTS’ defense.”

In an internal memo outlined by the Post Millennial the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs said they “believe that prosecutors will soon take the following actions: arrange for the immediate release of all pre-trial detainees whose only charged offenses are simple possessions, obtain orders vacating the judgments of all persons in your jails who are currently only serving time on simple possession, and recall all arrest warrants issued in cases in which the only charge is simple possession of drugs.”

The organization also said that it was “unclear” the impact of the ruling “on property forfeited pursuant to simple possession” and how the ruling “impacts cases where the fruits from search warrants based on simple possession revealed information relating to other crimes.”

In a February 25 statement, the Seattle Police Department said its officers would no longer detain or arrest individuals for simple possession or confiscate drugs based only on simple possession.

“This ruling does not impact any other charges that may be evident to officers during an encounter,” the statement says. “This ruling also does not limit officers’ ability to conduct investigations involving other illegal drug activity. However, officers must have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to investigate those other crimes, another those other crimes cannot rely nor be based upon RCW 69.50.4013 as the underlying crime.”

Kathleen Kyle, managing director of the Snohomish County Public Defenders Association, said in an interview with the Post Millennial that the “ruling is a step toward a more equitable criminal justice system.”

“If punishment were deterring addiction,” he said, “we wouldn’t be in the heroin epidemic that we have been in.”

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